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Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault rises at a meeting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 1, 2020.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

More than $1-billion in Canadian film and television production is “at imminent risk” if the federal government does not immediately address the lack of COVID-19 insurance for domestic producers, according to new surveys conducted by the country’s French- and English-language producers associations.

On Friday, the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA) and the Association québécoise de la production médiatique (APQM) issued a joint news release highlighting the fact that 214 films and series are “camera-ready” but cannot start production due to a lack of insurance policies covering shutdowns related to COVID-19. According to the trade body groups, the projects affected would generate 19,560 jobs.

“The implementation of a federal government-backed insurance program is the missing piece that would allow hundreds of productions to come to life and create thousands of jobs for creators and crew members,” Hélène Messier, president and CEO of the AQPM, said in a statement. “Because of this unjustifiable delay, the federal government is not only jeopardizing the economic prosperity of an entire sector, but drastically reducing the number of Canadian productions on our screens in the coming months to the benefit of foreign productions.”

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Across the globe, insurance companies are writing COVID-19 exclusions into their policies. While most big-budget Hollywood productions are able to self-insure, and projects that started filming before the pandemic are covered by pre-existing policies, an uninsured COVID-19 work stoppage could bankrupt most Canadian production companies.

COVID-19 insurance issue has Canadian film and TV producers ‘running on fumes’

To help ensure that the domestic industry gets back to business, the CMPA and AQPM have since June urged the federal government to adopt a “market-based” solution, models of which are already in place in France, Australia and Britain. The associations’ proposed solution would involve insurance companies providing COVID-19 protection, so long as producers paid premiums for the additional coverage and the government fronted a $100-million “backstop” reserve for claims. This would ensure that the country’s film and television sector, which added $12.7-billion to Canada’s economy in 2018-19 and created the equivalent of nearly 181,000 full-time jobs, gets back on track before this year’s shooting season evaporates due to winter weather.

While the office of Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault told The Globe and Mail earlier this month that “the department takes this matter very seriously,” there has been no firm update on when a solution could be put into action. This past Wednesday, Guilbeault held a virtual town hall with Messier and CMPA president and CEO Reynolds Mastin to discuss various industry issues, including the updating of the Broadcasting Act, but on the insurance matter only said that his office is “working diligently” to come up with a solution.

“We’ve met with government officials across multiple ministries to discuss our proposal, and although they acknowledge the urgency of this issue, months have passed without any action,” said the CMPA’s Mastin. “While governments in the United Kingdom, Australia, France and elsewhere have addressed the insurance issue for their production sectors, producers in Canada are losing millions – and in some cases facing bankruptcy – because of the lack of a federal program.”

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