I have written a number of columns over the past week that detailed the true nature of the Liberal government’s regressive film industry policy since last April’s budget (here, here, here and here). It’s been the epitome of bad governance on myriad levels, and any individual success that my fellow producers have had (or will have in the future) under the new system will be in spite of, and not because of, the actions of the Liberal government.
A silver lining in this ongoing fiasco, however, has been the performance of a number of members of both opposition parties. After all of the well-deserved criticism directed at the Liberals, I thought it would be a good idea to highlight some of the MLAs who have been staunch and eloquent supporters of the Nova Scotia film industry in the past year.
Karla MacFarlane is the Progressive Conservative MLA for Pictou West. The owner and operator of The Ship Hector Company Store in Pictou and an active community volunteer, she was first elected to the House of Assembly in 2013. She is currently a member of the Human Resources and Law Amendments Committees, and is the Progressive Conservative critic for the Environment, Municipal Relations, the Public Service Commission & Communities, Culture & Heritage. You can follow her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and Instagram here.
On April 22, 2015, during the debate over the cuts to film industry funding and the dismantling of Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia, MacFarlane stood in the House of Assembly and asked Finance Minister Diana Whalen two pointed questions about the changes to the film financing system in Nova Scotia would undermine the ability of producers here to access monies from the Canada Media Fund, and how statements made by the government with respect to the film tax credit were not correct. Here is that exchange:
MACFARLANE: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is for the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board. The Canadian Film Capital Corporation has supported productions in Nova Scotia for over 15 years, representing more than 950 productions. On April 21st the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board and her deputy received correspondence from CFC, who were compelled to provide factual information regarding the Nova Scotia Film Tax Credit and the actual impacts of the changes imposed. I will table this document. To remain competitive in a global landscape, the CFC cautioned that Nova Scotia must remain vigilant and ensure that the Nova Scotia tax credit is perceived as stable, reliable and predictable by domestic and foreign producers alike. Has the letter been reviewed by the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board and her deputy, and is it being given the weight it deserves as the discussions with the film industry continue?
WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that. I’m sure the member opposite knows there have been many letters, we’ve been reading them, looking at them, studying them, understanding them. I indicated earlier that we have certainly taken everything very seriously and, as I said today, the parties have been meeting. It has been collaborative, and we will meet again tomorrow.
MACFARLANE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for her answer. The Canada Media Fund also wrote to the Premier, the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board, her deputy, and others. Valerie Creighton, president and CEO, states that under the government’s changed credit, The Book of Negroes simply would not have been made. She is firm in saying: “Your contention that not all $122 million of Nova Scotia film and television production volume can be attributed to the FITC, as it ‘includes the value of funding from the Canada Media Fund which would be made in the Province without a tax credit in place . . .’ is incorrect.” My question is, with growing evidence from these experts, will this government act in good faith and restore a workable credit that the industry can actually use to generate investment and save jobs in Nova Scotia?
WHALEN: As the member opposite knows, we have been working in good faith. There have been a number of long meetings – good, but long and real working meetings – to discuss and better understand the position of the industry, how we can go forward. I mentioned that in the first meeting both parties said of course we want to have an ongoing film industry here in Nova Scotia. We have a meeting of the minds about that, and now it’s working together to make that happen.
The next day, on April 23, 2015, MacFarlane followed up with two more questions to Whalen that got directly to the heart of the matter and pointed out the hypocrisy of the government’s claims that they were “working with the industry in good faith” when they failed to consult with them beforehand. MacFarlane also highlighted how the Liberal government’s policies were particularly harmful to rural Nova Scotia. Here is that exchange:
MACFARLANE: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is to the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board. After weeks of chaos and uncertainty among Nova Scotia’s film industry, the government still has not admitted that they made a mistake, admitted that they broke a promise, or accurately assessed the revenue generated by the industry. It begs the question of whether or not the government actually believes that the film and TV industry contributes positively to Nova Scotia’s economy by generating jobs and income for all Nova Scotians. Why has the government been working to undermine and limit the growth of this industry by proposing damaging alternatives without advance consultations?
WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, again, I think the honourable member opposite is going a bit beyond the facts here in this case, because the industry has not been harmed in the way she is suggesting. The credit exists. There is $24 million in this year’s budget. Everybody knows that. We’re discussing the parameters for the future years and how that will affect the out-years. We’re looking for the mechanism – the way to unlock the dollars so that they have the best use for Nova Scotians and the best benefit to Nova Scotia and also continue to support an industry that requires that level of support.
MACFARLANE: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for her answers, but I do know that in my constituency, it has been damaging. We possibly have just lost five films. In Opposition, the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board lauded the film industry and the tax credit, saying, “We introduced the film tax credit when the Liberals were in government. It has been strengthened over time, with the support of all Parties.” I’ll table that. The minister was aware then that this credit, created 20 years ago, has generated significant benefits for the Province of Nova Scotia and helped to grow this industry. Why did the government target the film industry in their budget after supporting the tax credit while in Opposition and formalizing the support in their platform?
WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, again, I can assure all members of the House that there was a great deal of research done, as I’ve said here previously. Research was done and it was checked and double-checked. But what’s very important, and I think all of us should remember – and I said it here in estimates at some length – there are different measures of economic impact or fiscal impact or taxes returned to the Province of Nova Scotia for our investment. We agree with Screen Nova Scotia and members of the industry that we’ve got two valid measures; they simply are not lined up. They’re both valid. That’s very important. I’d like to just, before I finish the answer to my question, remind all members that when the credit was introduced in 1994, it covered 30 per cent of the industry’s labour costs for any production and it had a cap. In 2010, the cap came off. Thank you.
MacFarlane pointed out the key flaws in the Liberal approach: that there was absolutely no consultation by the government with industry and stakeholders, that the government broke its election promise to maintain the tax credit system as structured, that the government’s actions contradicted their own previous statements about the economic importance of the film industry to Nova Scotia and the effectiveness of the tax credit in building and maintaining the success of the industry, and that the government had clearly targeted the film industry. The answers from Whalen were both revealing (that the Liberal plan wasn’t some spur-of-the-moment whim, but rather something that they had researched and thought about internally at some length) and absurd (that the film industry metrics provided by the Screen Nova Scotia and the metrics provided by the Liberals were both valid, despite telling two radically different stories).
Finally, here is an excerpt from a letter to the editor of the New Glasgow Evening News that MacFarlane wrote in May, 2015, wherein she notes the film industry controversy within the context of Liberal policies that were on the whole devastating for rural Nova Scotia:
I went into this session of legislature optimistic about the future of our province and with the hopes of a budget that cut wasteful spending and offered plans for the future and job creation.
Instead we got a budget that is taking away jobs and making it more difficult for people and industries, like the film industry, to survive. I voted against the Liberal budget because it does nothing for rural Nova Scotians…
During the election campaign in 2013, the Liberals promised the film industry that if elected they would not cut the film tax credit. The McNeil government cut the film tax credit on budget day putting our province at a competitive disadvantage. This is another example of a decision where the full impact of the consequences won’t be felt until it is too late.
These are just three examples of MacFarlane’s ongoing support of the film and television industry, and her understanding of the key issues involved. While the Liberals have spent the past year showing Nova Scotians what bad governance looks like, MacFarlane has stood out on the film industry controversy as a dedicated proponent of a system that worked well for twenty years. In the process, she has demonstrated to Nova Scotians that there are informed, reasonable and honest alternatives to the regressive and bad faith austerity-based politics practiced by the government of Stephen McNeil.
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