On the Financial Worth of “Artists” & the Calamity of the NS Liberals

cast

the trailer park boys 

On April 9th, 2015 the Nova Scotia Liberal Party decimated Nova Scotia’s Film and Television Industry when Finance Minister Diana Whalen rolled out the Spring Budget and announced that the film industry tax credit will now only cover approximately 12.5% of Nova Scotia labour costs (salaries for people working in Nova Scotia), down from 50% in its current form. To say that those who work in the Film and Television Industry are angry and devastated is an understatement. If you look at the numbers, it is clear that the Film Industry Tax Credit is a worthwhile expense for Nova Scotians. When covering approximately 50% of Nova Scotia labour costs, this program costs the government $24 million dollars a year and in 2013-14 in generated $122 million dollars for the province. So, by slashing this Tax Credit, in the name of “balancing” the Budget, Whalen is not only slashing a $24 million dollar cost, but she is also slashing a $122 million dollar revenue. Next year the Liberals project they will only spent $6 million dollars on the Film and Television Industry in Nova Scotia. If the mass Exodus that is expected, and has already begun, of almost all Nova Scotia’s filmmakers, producers and production crews, happens, that $122 million dollars will go to Toronto or Los Angeles or Montreal as well. Yes, even though Diana Whalen claims Nova Scotia “can’t afford the Film Tax Credit in its current form” she is literally handing MILLIONS of dollars over to other provinces, effectively saying, “We don’t need this money. Here you go. Here’s Cathy Jones and Mary Walsh and The Trailer Park Boys. They can help generate revenue for you now. Merry Christmas!”

Unfortunately the problem here isn’t as simple as an ill-advised Finance Minister and an arrogant Premier who breaks his campaign promises at the first opportunity once he is elected, it is a more deeply engrained problem in our community and it is one that is not unique to Nova Scotia. It is easy for politicians to deceive the majority of the population into dismissing a cut like this one without a second glance because so many have been conditioned to see The Arts as being non-essential “Nice to Haves” and to see Artists, especially Film and Television Artists, as being rich, entitled drains on the economy, borne on the back of the honest working, badly battered, much beleaguered “average Nova Scotian.”

At this point, there is a part of me that wants to point out that many of the people who work in The Film Industry, people who are losing their jobs in Nova Scotia because of Diana Whalen’s budget, are carpenters, engineers, technicians, accountants, businesspeople, electricians, graphic designers, hair stylists, and marketing executives. Yet, to do this suggests that this offensive prejudice is true- that writers, filmmakers, actors, composers, editors and directors somehow are less deserving of their jobs then the others. First of all, there are a great many people working on both sides of the camera in the Nova Scotia Film and Television Industry, citizens of Nova Scotia and tax payers here, who are employed full-time by this industry. Does Diana Whalen think that there are so many surplus jobs in Nova Scotia, especially for young people, that she can afford to take jobs away from those who are steadily employed? What is she expecting will happen to these people? Either they will move away and they will pay taxes elsewhere and make money for another province, or they will stay in Nova Scotia and struggle to find employment, neither of which are a stimulus for an already sluggish economy. Second of all, these artists are people who are creating products that are being consumed, not just by Nova Scotians, but by people across the country and in some cases, beyond. One only needs to look at the support The Trailer Park Boys have gotten from American celebrities and eons of fans, to see irrefutable proof that this Nova Scotian Production is not a drain on this Province, but a source of pride! It is a testament to how creative and funny and talented Nova Scotians are. It is a testament to the fact that, just like we can enjoy a series imported from Los Angeles, that people in Hollywood are enjoying something imported from Nova Scotia. Why would we want to drive this Production elsewhere? What is the benefit to Nova Scotia of The Trailer Park Boys being filmed in another province, Diana Whalen? How is this helping Nova Scotian families? Think about TV shows like Sex in the City and Seinfeld, even though New York has been the backdrop of thousands of films and television programs since the Film Industry began, these television shows have helped to make an already booming NYC tourism industry even MORE profitable. Think about the people who make pilgrimages to the Full House house in San Francisco or the Home Alone house in Illinois or O’Hare Airport in Chicago, or Rodeo Drive in Hollywood because they have seen it portrayed on a beloved television program or movie. It matters where a successful TV show or film is made. Tourism can make a massive positive impact on the economic prosperity of a province. Prince Edward Island is a terrific example, it is not just Lucy Maud Montgomery’s estate that benefits from the World loving Anne of Green Gables. Lucy Maud Montgomery was an artist, a novelist, but her success (success she had over a HUNDRED years ago) still benefits all the people who own restaurants, stores, hotels, and businesses of all kinds all over Prince Edward Island. If we had a Provincial Government that was really looking out for the Interests of Nova Scotians and wanted Nova Scotia to meet its outstanding potential as a World tourist destination and a place where incredibly talented and intelligent people, in all sorts of different industries, work and thrive, they would be investing in Nova Scotia’s artists, just as Prince Edward Island does. Just ask three generations of Cape Breton’s musicians how much they benefited from investments in their Culture, Heritage, and Music during the 1980s and 90s, which helped make countless Nova Scotians international music stars. Not only is a success for Cape Breton’s artists advantageous for Cape Breton, it benefits the entire Province, and the momentum continues now thirty years later.

In fact, Nova Scotia also benefits this way from its Film and Television Industry. For example, due to the success of The Book of Negroes Miniseries, filmed in Nova Scotia and seen by viewers in Canada and the United States, those in the NS Tourism Industry have said that they expect to see more Americans visiting this summer, inspired by the series. That’s means more people staying hotels, eating and drinking downtown, shopping along the waterfront, getting Cows Ice Cream, going on the Harbour Hopper and Theodore Tugboat, eating lobsters and oysters, buying from fishermen, visiting Peggy’s Cove, going to the Casino, attending music concerts (including the Jazz and Buskers Festivals), going to the Art Gallery, Museums, Pier 21 and the Seaport Farmers’ Market. Isn’t that exactly what our Government should be doing everything in its power to encourage? Yet, the filmmakers of The Book of Negroes have also said that with the current tax credit cuts that they would not be able to film the second instalment of the series in Nova Scotia. This is a loss for the entire province, and all who live in it, it is in NO WAY just a loss to “the artists.” In a city like Halifax that can’t hold onto a clothing store, a sandwich shop, or a bookstore, on Barrington, or any street surrounding it, to save its soul, it seems like a disaster to be chasing revenue-generating businesses away with a broom.

Some people argue that because Artists do the work that they “love,” this work is less valuable than the work that others do entirely because it is an economic necessity. The argument is that there are people toiling away in jobs they hate providing us with goods and services that are essential, while the Artists are off feeding their souls and having a lark for something that is not. Yet, how many of us can really claim that our jobs are essential to life? The theatre existed, after all, before there were doctors, trains, or complex agricultural or educational systems as we have come to know them. People were going to the movies long before there were people working at the Apple Store. Who is to say whose job is more essential than another? Not to mention that there are people who “love” their jobs in every industry. What are we to do about them? Do you really want to picture a world in which there are no movies, no television programs, no novels, no plays, no dancing, no paintings and no music? Even if you have food and water and oxygen in that Hell, I fear your soul would die, of boredom, if nothing else.

If the Liberal Government wants to perpetuate the fatalist myth that Nova Scotia is doomed to be the welfare province, that we have no choice but to go lame at the loss of our youth, and no recourse but to complain about how unfair our lot is, and whine that we “can’t afford nice things,” and that we are all miserable doing jobs we hate, while doing everything in our power to maintain the infuriating status quo, then they are, indeed, the most ill-suited collection of people to lead our beautiful peninsula. Industries like Nova Scotia’s Arts, Culture, Heritage, Tourism and the development of small, local businesses have been leading the way in proving that the people who live in this Province are just as smart, capable, innovative, talented, creative, ambitious, hardworking and skilled as people across the country and around the world. To insinuate otherwise is a blatant lie and an insult to the people who live and work here. Investing in the ingenuity of the Nova Scotians whose passion and care have built these industries reaps deep and plentiful rewards for Nova Scotia.

Then, of course, there are the critics. Not the professional critics, I’m referring to the ones who post comments in favour of the budget, who purport to know everything there is to know about the Canadian Film and Television Industry because they once watched half of Corner Gas. These are the people who say things like, “Who cares? Every TV show that is made in Nova Scotia [insert Canada here too, if you’d like] is terrible. Why are we wasting our money on crap?” Let me be honest with you, I will be the first to admit that we, Nova Scotians [and Canadians], have produced some terrible television shows and some terrible movies. (So, has the United States). Yet, a huge reason why a show often doesn’t reach its potential HERE is because everyone involved in making it is already on far too tight a budget. According to Thom Fitzgerald “New York state remitted $462 million in Film and TV tax credits last year, to smash hits like Orange is the New Black, The Good Wife, Girls and Nurse Jackie.” $463 million dollars, as compared to Nova Scotia’s $24 million dollars. These American television shows are not given this massive amount of money by the state because they first arrive perfect and completed on silver platters, these shows are able to reach their potential because they are given the budget to take risks and to take time and be diligent and meticulous- to aim for the highest degree of excellence. Nova Scotia’s film and television artists aren’t given a fighting chance to compete on a equal playing field. Yet, their potential to do so is just as promising as artists anywhere else in the world. This means that when a show comes along like The Trailer Park Boys and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, that it is a testament to the fact that the artists who live here are among the very best in the World, because they are able to make something wonderful out of nearly nothing. What this also means is that Nova Scotia’s actors, filmmakers and writers are not rich, flamboyant, entitled celebrities. In fact, they make a salary very similar to the rest of the “honest working, badly battered, much beleaguered ‘average Nova Scotians’ who work here in industries that aren’t valued as much as they’re worth.

Nova Scotia has its budding Walt Disney, its George Lucas, its Lorne Michaels, its Tina Fey, its Sarah Polley, its Shonda Rhimes, its Orson Welles, and its Oprah Winfrey. Think about how much money the Walt Disney Company, Star Wars, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Grey’s Anatomy and The Oprah Winfrey Show generated for the cities from whence they came. It’s not just about the films and television shows themselves, it’s about the spin off industries too- advertising, and merchandise, it’s about tourism and all the service industries that thrive on a hot tourist destination. This includes most of the population of these cities. Can you imagine if Walt, George, Lorne, Tina, Sarah, Shonda, Orson and Oprah had been forced out of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago by short-sighted politicians? What if they had all, instead, taken their business up North to Halifax, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver? How different would the dynamic in North America be, with just that one switch in direction?

Diana Whalen and Stephen McNeil are ensuring that, without a doubt, our brightest and best filmmakers, the people with the best ideas and the ingenuity to turn their ideas into tangible, successful, ventures, will not make their lives in Nova Scotia. They will be like Lorne Michaels and Jim Carey and Mike Myers and Martin Short and Ellen Page and Sandra Oh and Matthew Perry and Michael J. Fox and all the other, countless, exorbitantly talented Canadian artists who slipped through our fingers because we couldn’t afford to keep them… even though they’re now making another country a fortune.

I encourage Canadian artists to continue to fight this, visit Screen Nova Scotia’s website and see what you can do to help, read this letter from Jonathan Torrenswrite to your MLA, to the Premier and to Finance Minister Diana Whalen with your concerns and your outrage. I also encourage the Provincial Liberals to fix their mistake and to admit to it, without insincere excuses or platitudes. But, mostly, I encourage all Canadians to see this current Liberal Budget as a reflection of the party’s values, and not just Stephen McNeil’s Liberals, but Justin Trudeau’s Federal Liberal Party’s values as well. After all, Trudeau campaigned zealously with McNeil in Nova Scotia, this Budget absolutely has the Liberal Party of Canada’s stamp of approval. So, I encourage all Canadians to keep this in mind for future elections, both Provincial and Federal, and to make sure that they vote for the candidate that best reflects their values, both in what they say and what they do. Actions, after all, speak volumes louder than words said to win an election.