Point of View

Cutting Manitoba's tax credits for film and books would crush the province's storytellers

If the provincial government goes through with recent recommendations, it would have a devastating effect on Manitoba's arts community.

If the provincial government goes through with recent recommendations, it would have a devastating effect

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen released the contents of the KPMG review of the provincial government's finances last month. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Manitoba's vibrant arts and culture scene is endangered. If the province's government goes through with recommendations to cut tax credits to the film and book publishing industries, it would curtail the ability of local filmmakers, writers and publishers to practice their craft and tell Manitoban stories.

KPMG, a financial consulting firm, was contracted by the Conservative government of Premier Brian Pallister to undertake a fiscal performance review last year. KPMG's report is geared toward reducing spending in a range of areas, but the problem is that it was developed simply to recommend areas to reduce core spending — they do not identify how those programs they assess actually enhance the lives of Manitobans. Film industry and book publishing industry tax credits are referred to as "boutique" tax credits — suggesting the film and book publishing industries are niche markets unimportant to the lives of Manitobans.

If the province's government goes through with recommendations to cut tax credits to the film and book publishing industries, it would curtail the ability of local filmmakers, writers and publishers to practice their craft and tell Manitoban stories.- Jessica Antony, Winnipeg-based writer and editor

No analysis is offered "as to the achievement of intended outcomes or value for money" of these tax credits, which are deemed to be "narrowly focused and directed at a small group of companies." As such, the report recommends their reduction or elimination without any analysis of the numerous benefits that supporting the provincial arts scene has for Manitobans. KPMG also notes that the use of anecdotal evidence to support these tax credit programs is a problem. Their point is confused by the fact that they, too, use anecdotal evidence (in the form of interviews) as the rationale for their recommendation to drastically reduce or eliminate these programs. (A perhaps little-known fact that further colours their recommendations is that they have been and continue to be embroiled in lawsuits and charges related to tax evasion schemes across the globe. In Canada, KPMG has marketed tax avoidance schemes to wealthy Canadians —the subject of a CBC Fifth Estate documentary. Despite this, the Pallister government thought it wise to hire KPMG, at a reported price tag of $740,000.)

Book publishing in Manitoba. (Association of Manitoba Book Publishers)

KPMG recommends lowering the film industry tax credit and cites Nova Scotia as an example of a province that has made the same move (at their recommendation). However, when Nova Scotia cut back their film industry tax credit in 2015 (which had been introduced 20 years earlier) the industry faced serious losses (as CBC Arts detailed). A survey conducted a year later of 584 people working in Nova Scotia's film industry found that not only does that industry consist of a younger, more highly educated and more mobile labour force than the province's overall labour force, but the cuts to the industry tax credit caused a decline in film production in the province and the number of suppliers to the sector. This means that Nova Scotia's young, educated film industry workforce are leaving the province for other, more lucrative film industry sectors. Not only was the province losing out on their workforce, but a sizeable portion of their GDP went with it. According to Marc Almon, the chair of Screen Nova Scotia, film and television production in Nova Scotia generated $180 million in 2014, with $24 million paid out in tax credits by the province. That production revenue would not have happened were it not for the tax credit program.

Manitoban publishers give local authors the opportunity for their voices to be heard across the province and country, an opportunity that first-time or even veteran Manitoban authors rarely receive from multinational publishers.- Jessica Antony, Winnipeg-based writer and editor

The book publishing tax credit is important to Manitoba as it helps to achieve the cultural and economic goals of Manitobans. One of the ways to ensure that Manitobans' voices are heard and stories are told is to support and bolster the local writing and publishing community. Manitoban publishers give local authors the opportunity for their voices to be heard across the province and country — something that first-time or even veteran Manitoban authors rarely receive from multinational publishers.

According to the Association for Manitoba Book Publishers, independent Canadian book publishers produce 80% of new authors each year. And in Manitoba between 2010 and 2015, 55% of published authors were Manitoban, 25% were first-time writers and 20% were Indigenous or writing about Indigenous communities. Economically speaking, local publishers employ 119 people — which includes highly-skilled jobs such as graphic designers and editors — and 77% of their spending stays in the province, including the printing of books. Without the support of the book publishing tax credit, local publishers won't be able to support as many authors, publish as many books or employ as many people. Greg Shilliday, co-owner of Great Plains Publishing, notes that Manitoba's book publishing tax credit has essentially "made the difference some years between it being a profitable year or not," making it possible to pay his employees a liveable wage and even give some of his part-time employees more hours.  

Without the tax credit, many Manitoban publishers would have not been able to produce the books they did. Take Fernwood Publishing, for example, which is the province's largest publisher. They have released 14 books in Manitoba in 2017 and without the tax credit only would have been able to publish a fraction of that. And with less books being produced, Manitoban book printers will also suffer. Friesens Corporation, Manitoba's largest printing company based in Altona, for example, will feel the effects of this decline in book publishing, which will inevitably affect the local community as they potentially cut jobs or the amount of business they do in the province. This puts Manitoba's book industry on the slippery slope toward the industry of the past, when it was dominated by multinational publishers and the majority of books were imported from the U.S. and U.K.

In essence, cutting the film and book publishing industry tax credits will return the industry to the hands of non-Manitobans who have no desire or incentive to tell our stories.

About the Author

Jessica Antony

Jessica Antony is a Winnipeg-based editor, writer and educator, and the owner of the editorial consultancy firm Anchor Editorial Services. She previously spent ten years working in the book publishing industry.

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