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Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault attends a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Feb. 3, 2020.

BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

The federal government will provide a $50-million short-term compensation fund for film and television productions that have been placed at risk due to a lack of COVID-19 insurance policies.

On Friday morning, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault announced that Ottawa’s initiative, to be managed by federal funding agency Telefilm, will save 35,000 jobs per quarter and generate up to $1-billion in economic activity.

“We want this program to be inaugurated as soon as possible,” Guilbeault said. “We’re literally running to put this together.”

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“The swift implementation of a workable program is now mission critical, to safeguard thousands of jobs in jeopardy,” Reynolds Mastin, president and CEO of the Canadian Media Producers Association, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Minister, Telefilm and other industry stakeholders to ensure the launch of this new funding measure as soon as possible.”

The plan has been in various stages of discussion since the spring, when the CMPA and the Association québécoise de la production médiatique (AQPM) lobbied Ottawa to adopt a “market-based” insurance plan for domestic film and TV producers, who were facing indefinite shutdowns after insurance companies across the world started writing COVID-19 exclusions into their policies. While most 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.

Last week, the CMPA and AQPM released a survey of its members that found more than $1-billion in domestic entertainment production was “at imminent risk” if the federal government did not immediately act on the matter. To help save hundreds of “camera-ready” series and films, the CMPA and AQPM have for months urged the Liberal government to fund a model similar to those put in place in Australia, France and Britain. The CMPA/AQPM proposal 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.

Details on how Canada’s program will operate and be administered are not yet clear. And though the fund is marked as $50-million, rather than the proposed $100-million, Guilbeault said the figure could be adjusted.

“If we realize that $50-million is not enough and more is required, we will certainly adjust this measure accordingly,” he said.

Eligibility for the fund, which will offer a maximum of $1.5-million in the case of a temporary production interruption and $3-million in the case of a complete shutdown, will be limited to production companies owned and controlled by Canadians. “The company would have to have a COVID security plan and be an independent production. And there are a number of other criteria that Telefilm will be releasing in the coming weeks,” Guilbeault said.

In a statement, Christa Dickenson, executive director of Telefilm, said that the temporary measure “provides a concrete solution to one of our industry’s most pressing concerns. We look forward to seeing the productions resume and will be at the service of the industry as part of the administration of this fund.”

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