Members of Nova Scotia’s film and television industry, including actors from Trailer Park Boys, rallied outside the provincial legislature on Wednesday amid chants of “Save our jobs” to protest a proposed cut to a film tax credit.
They have been pressing the government to change course on the measures announced last Thursday in the province’s budget, arguing the cut will effectively kill the business and thousands of jobs in the province. The Liberal government, however, says the tax credit is an unaffordable expense that needed to be cut to bring down the provincial deficit.
What the tax credit does
The $24-million program gives tax incentives to film productions based in the province. As it currently stands, the credit allows qualifying productions to claim up to 65 per cent of labour costs.
There are similar rebates in most other provinces, although Nova Scotia and Manitoba offer the highest subsidies at 65 per cent.
What Nova Scotia's changing
Finance Minister Diana Whalen announced Thursday that the credit will be cut to $6-million from $24-million in next year’s budget. As of July 1, 25 per cent of the credit would cover a production’s eligible costs. The rest of it would apply to any taxes owing within the province.
Film producers would also have access to an additional $6-million established in a fund for the creative sector, recording and publishing through Nova Scotia Business Inc., with a launch date set for next April.
“We simply cannot afford to maintain the credit in its current form,” Finance Minister Diana Whalen said at the budget announcement last Thursday.
(Read more: N.S. budget forecasts $98-million deficit)
Why filmmakers aren't happy
Film-industry players in the province says the proposed change will effectively mean the end of significant film and television production in Nova Scotia.
Screen Nova Scotia says the refundable tax credit cost the government $24-million in 2013-14, but generated $139-million in production spending, supporting 2,700 jobs. That conflicts with a government analysis, which shows the value of production amounted to only $66.8-million in 2013-14, generating $39.4-million in salaries and wages.
John Dunsworth, who stars in Trailer Park Boys as Jim Lahey, was one of many people from the province’s entertainment sector on Wednesday to slam the move to slash the annual incentive. “How do we explain the decision that these people are making?” Dunsworth told a crowd, which at one point swelled to more than 2,000 people, according to Halifax police. “It doesn’t make any sense. It can’t be just bad advice by the stupid Finance Department.”
On social media
Film-industry objections to the tax changes have gained traction on social media. Before the provincial budget was released, Trailer Park Boys comedians Rob Wells, Mike Smith and John Paul Tremblay posted a video – delivered in character as Ricky, Bubbles and Julian, respectively – calling for the province to keep the tax credit.
The video, and an online campaign to preserve the tax credit, got support on Twitter from celebrities such as rapper Snoop Dogg, Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose and comedian Carrot Top.
The dispute has even caught the eye of William Shatner, who tweeted Wednesday, “Film industry in Nova Scotia is important. I am asking StephenMcNeil & dianawhalenNS to keep the Film Tax Credit.”
Signs of compromise?
On Tuesday, Nova Scotia’s film industry and the government emerged from a meeting with different interpretations over a potential compromise.
Key industry players expressed some optimism, describing a two-hour meeting with Ms. Whalen and her officials as productive. Screen Nova Scotia chairman Marc Almon said another meeting would be held with Ms. Whalen on Friday. “We still have some concerns, especially regarding the implementation date,” he said. “So we need to continue talking about that.”
But Ms. Whalen later said she simply listened to the group’s concerns before explaining the government’s position. “What I was acknowledging was that they have a problem with this,” Ms. Whalen said.
Inside the legislature, Premier Stephen McNeil said he hasn’t changed his stance on the cut. “We only have so much money,” McNeil said. “I’m prepared to change our view in the sense of how we divvy that money out and that’s what we’ve said to the industry: ‘If you have a different way, then let us know what that looks like.' “