Liberal’s film industry massacre still reeks
Homesick (adj.): longing, nostalgia and sadness associated with dislocation from the place where one has the greatest sense of belonging – home.
I had a chat recently with an acquaintance who exhibits those symptoms. A talented, entrepreneurial guy, he’s the type that leaders of commerce and government claim Nova Scotia desperately needs.
Yet, a few years back, those leaders sent legions of Nova Scotians who fit the description into economic exile. It stunk then and still reeks.
Despite promising full support for filmmakers while courting votes in 2013, once in government the Liberals betrayed and massacred the industry.
Under the guise of tax equity, and when that didn’t take of saving money, the province drove a stake through the heart of a thriving and, more importantly, a growing and acclaimed film sector.
The growth reversed overnight. Maud Lewis’ life story was shot in Newfoundland. The acclaim turned to disdain for a place that has no creative soul. That’s a horrible reputation for a government to hang on a province.
With the emotion of the moment now a memory to all but the dislocated, their families and friends, the public policy decision deserves exhumation and dispassionate examination.
The conclusion: It was a meanspirited, ill-advised, uninformed, counterproductive bullet to the brain of an industry that bureaucrats didn’t like and politicians didn’t understand. Okay, a little passion may have survived.
Ignore government’s token gestures and feigned affinity for the creative economy. There is antipathy in government for creative types. They are strange, perplexing creatures to a bureaucracy virtually devoid of creative thought.
When the province killed the film tax credit it kept a nearidentical digital tax credit. Government geeks get digital. It says, “the future” to politicians and bureaucrats who somehow missed the world-wide explosion in demand for film content.
Nova Scotia still has a film industry, thanks to a few resilient companies. Nova Scotia Business Inc. (NSBI) stepped up to try to salvage something and save the government’s political face.
But filmmaking in Nova Scotia isn’t what it was, nor nearly what it could be.
There are hundreds if not thousands of Nova Scotians working in film. You’ll find many of them in Northern Ontario of all places, where their talent, skill and experience is treasured.
Currently seven projects are in production in North Bay alone. It’s a pretty little spot, but not nearly as picturesque as any one of the hundreds of coastal communities along Nova Scotia’s south, eastern, Cape Breton or Fundy shores.
Taking the axe to the film tax break deprived some of those communities of a much-needed economic boost. The province put its faith and your money in stuff like aquaculture instead.
My erstwhile acquaintance, Bill Fleming, now plying his talents in production design in Northern Ontario, worked with a set designer in Nova Scotia who estimated that over the decade 2005 to 2015 she spent $2 million, in places like Bear River, Bass River and Balls Creek, buying Nova Scotia-made goods. She’s finished and so are many more like her.
Conversely, the province has no problem dropping $10 million on tourism promotion. If you could guarantee Tourism Nova Scotia an audience of five million Germans, you could grab a nice chunk of that cash.
A film shot on the Aspotogan Peninsula for German television reached five million viewers. Did international promotional promise of that magnitude factor in the decision to end of the tax credit?
The province will protest that the Nova Scotia Film and Television Production Incentive at NSBI filled the gap. Filmmakers acknowledge NSBI’S effort, but it is cumbersome and can’t heal the reputational damage.
Could Nova Scotia’s film sector be rebuilt to its former energy? Not easily. Once the government tells people they are unwanted, it’s hard to bring them back. But it is worth a try.
Mcneil cabinet ministers claim Nova Scotia can’t compete with the incentives filmmakers are offered elsewhere. That position seems to support Stephen Harper’s infamous slight. This region suffers from “a culture of defeat,” but it turns out the culture resides in government.
Maybe we can’t compete dollar-for-dollar with New York, but we can compete with Northern Ontario, and we have something better on offer.
The history serves as an example of one thing that’s wrong around here. Our governments opt for short-term financial gain over the potential for long-term economic growth, unless that potential fits neatly into one of the government’s pre-fabricated boxes.
It’s short-sighted, narrowminded and possibly suicidal.