Thursday, March 6, 2008

Minor mea culpa on Bill C-10 controversy

Well it appears I need to offer an apology for my (over?)reaction last week to the Globe & Mail stories that the Stephen Harper government is planning to stop funding film & TV productions in Canada they deem "offensive."

It's now clear that the language in Bill C-10 is very similar to language used in a previous (and never passed) bill introduced by former Liberal Heritage Minister Sheila Copps back in 2003.

Back then, Copps tried to amend the Income Tax Act so that the Minister of Heritage could provide tax credits for a film or TV production if he/she were convinced that, "public financial support of the production would not be contrary to public policy..."

This is identical with the current wording in Bill C-10. It seems this policy change has been bouncing around bureaucratic backrooms for a long time.

It's not clear when or how "contrary to public policy" got converted into "anything deemed offensive to Charles McVety," as the Globe & Mail stories implied.

Obviously, this whole controversy again reminds us to take what we read in our nation's newspapers with a grain of salt.

No doubt much of the outrage we've seen levelled against this possible change was inspired by the suggestion the Tories were going to yank funding for films like David Cronenberg's 'Crash,' 'Breakfast With Scott,' or American projects like 'Brokeback Mountain.'

Like the 2003 proposal, the Tories' Bill C-10 only aims to penalize Canadian producers who make films "contrary to public policy," while exempting American or other foreign productions altogether. So American films filled with extreme violence can continue to shoot away in Canada without any risk of losing their generous Canadian tax credit support. (Canadian producers that receive an indigenous tax credit can offset 25% of their labour costs, while foreign producers that tap the production services tax credit can offset 16% of labour costs. While the percentage is smaller, the dollar figure is generally much higher due to the larger budgets involved with U.S. productions.)

This is the most bizarre aspect of this new policy and, in my mind, absolutely undermines the stated intention of the change: to ensure Canadian funding doesn't go to support projects deemed 'contrary to [Canadian] public policy.'

Why should Canadians fund American productions through tax credits when those same films, if produced by Canadians, would be denied tax credit funding?

Liberal or Tory-inspired, this is still a terrible idea. Check out this great article by Alex Strachan which sums up nicely what's wrong with this entire policy, including:

"Bill C-10, it seems to me, is flawed because no one can really decide what is too violent or pornographic or foul-mouthed other than you, the person who watches TV and goes to the movies, and effectively foots the bill to keep the whole machine up and running.

"Bill C-10, it seems to me, is flawed because it would add yet another layer of bureaucracy to an industry that is already overburdened by bureaucracy.

"Bill C-10 is misdirected, it seems to me, because tax credits are not the same as production funds. Decisions about tax credits ought to be made based purely on financial considerations, and nothing else."

This is a can of worms, it's simply not workable and should be shelved completely, much like the Liberal proposal was back in 2003.


Miles Lunn said...

I am glad the Liberals are against it now. That being said, I would support one that bans tax credits to films that do things illegal such as Child Pornography or hate films, but other than that, everything else should receive tax credits.

Brooke said...

I can tell you as a person who has filled out dozens of these taxes forms, that the government tax credits do not go toward any pornography (it is one of the first questions they ask) and they certainly wouldn't fund any illegal activity! The tax credits applications are very detailed (300 + pages) and require the submission of a script as well detailed audits and reporting throughout the production.

Brooke said...

I also wanted to say that I think the problem with the "contrary to public policy" clause is that art is supposed to question public policy. For example if gay marriage was illegal, films depicting loving gay relations might help sway public opinion so that the policy could be changed.

The reason it is important to have a tax credit for US films is b/c it is a CANADIAN labour credit. Which encourages US productions to hire Canadians. If we didn't have these credits US films would bring in US crews and Canadians workers wouldn’t be able to pay the bills. Forcing them out of the industry and making it impossible for the to work on lower budget Canadian projects.

Brian Dell said...

I suspect Brooke is talking about GRANTS from agencies like Telefilm as opposed to credits.

"contrary to public policy" appears frequently in statutes.

Brooke said...

Nope, I'm speaking specifically about the tax credits, although the application process is similar to many gants and funds. The tax credits are based on the business case, which includes omission to funding to pornography. The grants and funds like telefilm, CTF, HaroldGreenburg, Bell etc. are based on both the business case and some content such as where are you filming, is the producer Canadian ect.

The problem with the "contrary to public polices" in bill C-10 is that it doesn’t refer to over lapping laws and polices, such as Official Languages or Broadcast Standards, as it might in other statues such as the Canadian Communications Policy. It refers directly to the content of the film.

As I stated earlier the government grants and funds review the "Canadianness” and the legality of the project. The tax credit should be based entirely on the business case and refund the appropriate tax credit as they would in any other industry.