Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thoughts on Bill C-10

cam There has been much written and said in recent weeks on proposals in Bill C-10 regarding tax credits for Canadian film and video productions.  I have been too ill to think about it until recently. And so I am trying to get caught up on my reading. One of the most helpful articles that I have read regarding Bill C-10 is one posted by Matthew Johnston on April 16, 2008 on the Western Standard website in which he asks if C-10 would transform the Heritage Ministry into the Ministry for Propaganda.

Joseph Brean with the National Post reported that in November 2003 then Deputy Prime Minister John Manley and Minister of Heritage Sheila Copps proposed that tax credits for Canadian film and video production should be issued only if the productions in question are not "contrary to public policy."

It took five years, but this Liberal idea to tie film and video production tax credits to public policy objectives has finally and regrettably found its way into proposed legislation. Bill C-10 is a Conservative omnibus bill that would deny tax credits to films offensive to the Heritage Minister.

As you might expect, the proposed legislation has raised an army of film celebrity critics who are calling the bill censorship.

Canadian actress and Oscar nominee Sarah Polley called the bill "dangerous and unacceptable."

Toronto-born filmmaker David Cronenberg said the legislation would be "an absolute catastrophe" for the film industry.

I know what you're thinking. If celebrities are rallying against this Conservative bill, it's probably a sound piece of legislation. Good instinct, vigilant reader, but this time the glitterati has it right.

National Post columnist George Jonas put it well when he wrote that...

Should Bill C-10 become law, a committee of Heritage Ministry's smut-, hate- and violence-hunters could deny tax credits to a completed film, even one in which the government had invested up front. From that day, no fiscally responsible institution would feel comfortable offering interim financing to any film. Imagine a charity trying to raise funds with tax receipts that may or may not be valid.

But not only would this bill hurt the film industry, it's hard to see how this proposed legislation would not lead to censorship.

For instance, it would seem reasonable that a film or video promoting marijuana use would be "contrary to public policy." The last accounting of government spending I read showed that the Federal government spends about $500 million across departments on its anti-drug strategies, not including law enforcement. So, if the bill passes, would a tax credit be issued to the producers of Trailer Park Boys? This popular Canadian mockumentary television series focuses on characters who spend their time in and out of jail primarily for growing and selling marijuana. Is this TV series contrary to public policy? Of course. The government spends $500 million on anti-drug strategies and this popular TV show undermines these strategies by making light of marijuana use and trafficking.

But Heritage Minister Josée Verner denies that the legislation will lead to censorship (the government isn't actually banning the production of offensive films). She also argues that the government has a right to deny tax credits to offensive films because taxpayer money is involved.

While there are government subsidies for Canadian films, Bill C-10 has nothing to do with these subsidies. The legislation deals only with the tax credits film producers can use to offset income.  A tax credit is not a government subsidy. A tax credit is targeted tax relief. Here's how it works: A private film producer, after making a private investment in a Canadian produced film, can apply for a tax credit for a relatively small percentage of the total investment amount in order to reduce his or her taxable income.

Is this a subsidy? Of course not. Not unless you believe all the wealth created by the film industry belongs to the government.

Bill C-10 turns the Heritage Minister into a censor (of sorts). This is a bad idea. If the government doesn't want to see tax dollars going to support offensive or politically incorrect films, they should scrap film industry subsidies and leave the tax credits in place.

The last three paragraphs are particularly helpful, showing that we are really going after the wrong target.  The issue is not the tax credits (which C-10 deals with) but the film subsidies.  And I agree; perhaps the later is what we should be scrapping if we are concerned about our tax dollars going towards productions deemed offensive and "contrary to public policy."  That is what would really make a difference.

By let me be clear here; Canada has many film makers whom I hope will find financing and support - but not from governments in Canada.  I would rather that all subsidies be ended once and for all. If Canadian culture is really worth preserving, let it be done by Canadians themselves who believe that a certain film should or should not be produced.  And then let the public decide what is worth paying to watch.

1 comment:

nachtwache said...

Now that would be democracy, letting the people decide. Is Canada ready for it? The people are. I hope our current government is brave enough to cut the apron strings.