Lights, cam­era, in­ac­tion


Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Dean Ben­nett THE CANA­DIAN PRESS — ED­MON­TON

The au­di­tor gen­eral says Al­berta’s $43mil­lion film and TV grant pro­gram has been abused be­cause the rules are so loose, they are al­most un­en­force­able.

Mer­wan Sa­her said grant re­cip­i­ents have been vi­o­lat­ing the aim of the Al­berta Pro­duc­tion Grant by hir­ing peo­ple and buy­ing ser­vices from out of prov­ince. He said one per­son claimed mul­ti­ple salaries on the set for three jobs.

Sa­her stated the govern­ment was aware of the prob­lem al­most two years ago, rewrote the rules to tighten them up in early 2016, but then never im­ple­mented the changes.

And he said the govern­ment has con­tin­ued to hand out grants to pro­duc­ers deemed to have bro­ken the rules.

“The man­age­ment has been sub­stan­dard,” Sa­her told a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day af­ter the re­lease of his lat­est re­port.

He said he was par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about the govern­ment con­tin­u­ing to give more grant money to com­pa­nies that were al­ready abus­ing the pro­gram.

“I ap­ply a very sim­ple test: If that was your own money, would you do that?” said Sa­her.

The grant is given to film and TV pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies to en­cour­age them to spend money in the prov­ince and hire lo­cal tal­ent.

It dis­pensed $43 mil­lion in the last fis­cal year. Projects are el­i­gi­ble for up to $5 mil­lion or 30 per cent of el­i­gi­ble ex­penses, whichever is lower. The au­di­tor said the pro­gram is over-sub­scribed and is in high de­mand.

In late 2015, the Cul­ture and Tourism depart­ment, act­ing on anony­mous com­plaints, found some com­pa­nies were hir­ing peo­ple and pay­ing for ser­vices in B.C., On­tario and the United States.

Nei­ther the au­di­tor nor the depart­ment would name the pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies in­volved.

The depart­ment has since been try­ing to re­coup $1.2 mil­lion in in­el­i­gi­ble ex­penses and has gone to a col­lec­tion agency for help.

The au­di­tor noted the depart­ment has had to aban­don some claims “be­cause the un­clear guide­lines made it dif­fi­cult for the depart­ment to en­force com­pli­ance.”

The depart­ment crafted tighter guide­lines in early 2016, at the same time that the cur­rent min­is­ter of the depart­ment, Ri­cardo Mi­randa, took over.

But un­der Mi­randa, the new rules were not put in ef­fect for a year-and-a half, un­til they were in­tro­duced by him last week un­der a re­vised grant pro­gram, ti­tled the Screen-Based Pro­duc­tion Grant.

Mi­randa, in an in­ter­view, said the ma­jor­ity of the grant ap­pli­cants fol­lowed the rules. He said the yearand-a half de­lay was be­cause the is­sues were com­plex.

“It’s not some­thing you can fix overnight,” said Mi­randa.

“We needed to fig­ure out how the pro­gram needed to be struc­tured in a way that we cap­tured some of the is­sues that were be­ing raised (while) be­ing re­spon­sive as well to the needs of the in­dus­try, be­cause you could eas­ily dam­age the in­dus­try if you cre­ate un­cer­tainty. “It’s highly mo­bile.” Asked why the govern­ment con­tin­ued to give money to per­ceived rule break­ers, Mi­randa said it was dif­fi­cult to dis­en­tan­gle in­di­vid­u­als from num­bered com­pa­nies from pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies that were form­ing and dis­solv­ing from sea­son to sea­son.

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