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No new tax breaks for film industry, B.C. government says

B.C. Liberal MLA Bill Bennett addresses reporters in Victoria in November 2010.

Deddeda Stemler/The Globe and Mail

Amid industry concerns about a film and TV production slowdown in B.C., the provincial government has released production-spending figures for 2012 that suggest a 2.3-per-cent increase over the previous year.

Producers spent $1.2-billion in 2012, which was up $27-million from 2011. That came from 294 productions in 2012, up 13 from 2011.

Foreign production spending was down nine per cent. But spending for domestic productions, projects for which B.C. producers raised the money, were up 55 per cent over 2011 to $324-million.

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Foreign feature film production was down 24 per cent. TV series production was up 22 per cent.

Cultural Development Minister Bill Bennett, whose government has been wary of B.C. industry calls to match tax breaks in jurisdictions such as Ontario, said he did not see the mild increase as vindication for caution on the matter.

"I think we are in a period of time here where we need to be vigilant in terms of where the industry is going," Mr. Bennett said in a conference call with reporters.

Premier Christy Clark has said taxpayers have been sufficiently generous, with tax breaks worth about $285-million per year. In the February budget speech, Finance Minister Mike de Jong acknowledged that the film industry might feel "overlooked" because of the absence of new tax breaks, but the province could not afford them.

Mr. Bennett said there was no apparent need for quick action. "I would say that there doesn't appear to be an immediate crisis in terms of jacking up the tax credits today because the industry had such a terrible year in 2012. It didn't have a terrible year in 2012."

Mr. Bennett said he would not assume a continued increase in production spending, and that 2013 has already shown "some weakness." However, he noted that B.C. was within $60-million of Ontario, which "is always held up as such a great success. I think that is also notable."

Peter Leitch, chair of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of B.C. and president of North Shore Studios, said 2012 began well, but tapered off.

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Hollywood studios warned in November that B.C. tax credits were not competitive enough, he said in an interview. The situation led to the slowest-ever first quarter in 2013, he said. "When we look forward, we're really concerned about what level of production we're going to have in 2013 as a result of starting off so poorly.

Mr. Leitch acknowledged the uncertainty about provincial film policy given that an election is coming in May. "What we're looking for at the end of the day is good policy," he said. "We want to be in the ballpark. We want to be competitive."

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