Nova Scotia·Analysis

McNeil's major move: Cuts to film tax credit

Few decisions the Liberal government made during its first term set off a bigger protest than changes to the film tax credit.

Two years after industry was blindsided and feared for its future, recovery is ongoing

Members of Nova Scotia's film and television industry protest outside the legislature in 2015 after the government proposed drastic cuts to an industry tax credit. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The first term of Stephen McNeil's Liberal government was punctuated by a series of big moves that led to big fights. In some cases, the consequences of those decisions — and the ensuing reactions — are already becoming apparent. For others, it will take some time to tell.

With that in mind, here's a look at one major move from the Grits during their mandate and what the fallout has been.

The overhaul of the film tax credit

While much of what the Liberals did and attempted during their first mandate was laid out in their 2013 campaign platform, for the people affected, the overhaul of the film tax credit had a feeling of improvisation — both in its actual announcement and the way it was communicated and handled.

The Liberals incited one of the largest protests of their mandate when the 2015 budget essentially gutted the labour-based credit. Cue a series of hastily organized meetings between representatives of the film and TV industry and the government that eventually resulted in a compromise and a new fund that focuses on the total amount of money a production spends in the province.

Mike Volpe of Topsail Entertainment is chair of the board for Screen Nova Scotia. (CBC)

At the time, people feared for the future of the industry as work seemed to dry up and people moved away. Two years later, the board chair of Screen Nova Scotia said he's gone from "full panic mode" to being cautiously optimistic.

"People have asked, 'Are we recovered?'" said Mike Volpe. "I would say we're recovering."

Volpe said there's still work to do in terms of supporting and developing new talent.

"That's how you get the next Trailer Park Boys or the next [This Hour Has] 22 Minutes — you need that germ of an idea to be developed and worked out. It takes a long time in this business," he said.

"We're getting up and we're dusting ourselves off and things are going in the right direction and that's great, but we're not where we were."

By the numbers

Officials with Screen Nova Scotia say 2014 was a banner year for their industry. The following year, with the change to the tax credit and ensuing chaos, business was essentially cut in half. As people have learned to deal with the new credit, the amount of work has crept back to about where it was before the change.

If there are lingering effects, it's been that some of the most experienced people in the industry are now working elsewhere. And while two years ago about 75 per cent of productions were local and the rest came from away, that ratio has flipped today.

Last week the Liberals released a budget that included almost $23 million for the film industry, an increase of $12.8 million from last year.

Improved communication

McNeil said he feels better about a system that doesn't just fund labour and contains more transparency. The recent filming of the miniseries The Mist, one of the largest productions in the province's history, is proof they're on the right track, he said.

Volpe said what the industry needs is long-term stability so it's able to grow and reach its full potential. Screen Nova Scotia has the data to show that for every dollar invested in the industry, it gives back $6. Volpe said that's the kind of return every government should want and support.

If there's a silver lining to what they went through two years ago, Volpe said it's that communication among people in the industry is better than it's ever been and that discussions are occurring more regularly with the government.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca