British Columbia's Culture Minister says he is open to offering more generous tax credits for the embattled film and TV production sector – a move Premier Christy Clark has described as a pointless race among competing provinces.
Bill Bennett raised the possibility of such tax relief if his B.C. Liberals survive the May 14 provincial election after announcing the creation of a new entity Thursday to promote film and television, digital media, music, publishing and other arts sectors.
"I don't know what's in the budget. I would be very surprised if there was any change to the tax credits for film," Mr. Bennett said of the budget set for Feb. 19. Ms. Clark has vowed that it will be balanced.
The Culture Minister says it would cost $100-million a year for B.C. to match Ontario's tax-credit program – a demand of many industry workers who have been left without work owing to a slowdown in production. Ms. Clark says the $285-million spent each year on such tax relief is generous enough, and that trying to match competing jurisdictions such as Ontario would be a "race to the bottom."
But Mr. Bennett said more generous relief remains a possibility. "In the long term, government will continue to look at all of the options that we have for ensuring our film and television industry in B.C. can compete with the rest of Canada," he said in an interview.
In fact, the minister said his position was the same as that of B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix, who went on a fact-finding mission to Los Angeles last week, and says he would not rule out tax cuts to help the B.C. industry.
"I haven't taken anything off the table either. Over the mid to long term, we'll consider everything," Mr. Bennett said.
"Will there be tax credits? I don't know. The thing about tax credits is, all the other jurisdictions have to do is make better tax credits. The public pays more money. That just becomes this see-saw thing."
But as he held his news conference at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Mr. Bennett faced blunt calls for action, echoing the concerns that drew thousands of unemployed film workers and supporters to a recent rally on the North Shore.
Concern about declining production and the related impact on thousands of workers was reflected during the minister's news conference by two men – a grip and a production manager, both currently unemployed – holding a "Save BC Film" banner, reflecting a grassroots organization pressing the B.C. Liberal government for tax credits.
"It's not going to save 25,000 jobs," yelled another film worker, Patrick Stark. "Thanks for nothing!"
Mr. Stark, who has worked on X-Men and Fantastic Four films in Metro Vancouver, now supplements his production income with other work, such as running a small poster company.
"It's an absolute joke," he told reporters afterward. "That announcement just shows how nobody is taking our industry seriously. It was a viable, strong industry and now it's being run into the ground. These people, a lot of them are my friends, my family, are not going to have work for this entire year. And that announcement is not going to help."
Mr. Bennett called the news conference to announce various measures, including the newly formed Creative BC, an independent, non-profit society akin to the Ontario Media Development Corporation, which will develop and implement strategies to bolster the film and television, digital media, music, publishing and other creative sectors. However, the planned $1-million budget is a fraction of what the OMDC receives from the Ontario government – $24-million for 2012-13.
Mr. Bennett also promised $6.3 million in what he described as "new money" to support scholarships and programs for youth to encourage participation in the arts.
Spencer Chandra Herbert, the opposition culture critic, said the government appeared intent on getting rid of a "problematic" issue ahead of the election without significantly spending more money. "It looks like some showmanship here, which is not unexpected. An election is coming."
Still, Brian Hamilton, chair of the B.C. branch of the Canadian Media Production Association, said it was a good start.
The agency is to be running by April 1 – a timeline Mr. Hamilton says suggests the government understands the situation's urgency. "Our business is very cyclical and seasonal so right now in springtime is when many of the television series and some movies are scouting, are considering British Columbia as a potential location. They're considering B.C. companies as potential partners. So if we wait until the summer, we've lost the year."