Province says film industry on the mend — those in the business aren't so sure
Deputy business minister says production in line with average; Screen Nova Scotia says work still lags
The interim executive director of Screen Nova Scotia says the province's film and television industry has a long way to go to recover from a change in 2015 to the way government provides support.
Laura MacKenzie was responding after deputy business minister Bernie Miller told the legislature's law amendments committee Wednesday that there are signs of recovery in the last year and overall production value during that time is in line with the previous 10-year average.
But MacKenzie said she and the people she represents don't see growth in productions or work for people.
She noted unions and guilds are reporting there is between 60 and 65 per cent less work since the government moved from a labour-based tax credit to an incentive fund based on money spent in the province.
"Our workers aren't working the way they used to be working," MacKenzie told reporters at Province House.
'We need both'
The industry is looking for the restoration of a $2-million equity fund to help new and emerging talent get off the ground, the creation of a sound stage, and a change to the base rate of funding that would see incentives related to location and talent rolled into the overall numbers.
Right now the base rate for an Indigenous production is 26 per cent and 25 per cent for large productions that come from out of province. An additional three per cent relates to certain employment targets for Nova Scotians and shooting in rural areas.
MacKenzie said the government's decision to put more focus on Indigenous productions rather than those that come from away is a disservice to workers in the province.
"We need both," she said. "We can't just have one or the other."
Sound stage at old convention centre?
Miller told reporters the government would be willing to discuss the creation of an indirect venture capital fund that would incorporate the private sector, but government's interest would be for it to apply to new entities, rather than established players.
He was likewise supportive of the idea of a sound stage, noting a group in Halifax is working to develop a program that could see something set up at the location of the former convention centre location in Halifax.
While the base rate will be reviewed in 2021, Miller said the incentive in Nova Scotia is higher than in other provinces and he worries about simply trying to chase work by increasing subsidies.
He said the industry's talent and skill, along with the province's location options, are the true competitive advantage for Nova Scotia.
The province's share of the national industry — about one per cent — is the same now as it has been for some time, said Miller.
It's been about three years since some of the most heated protest the Liberals have faced since coming to power.
The change to the tax credit, and last-minute scrambling by government officials to try to soften the blow for the industry by developing the new incentive, saw massive protests around Province House and reports of workers leaving the province in droves.
Miller said it's difficult to compare the system now to the previous regime, because sometimes the credit was being paid out years after the activity actually occurred.
That point was a particular frustration for Finance Department officials, who wanted more predictability in how to account for spending, anticipate need and document it.
Miller said the former system also wasn't transparent enough. He then attempted to draw a line between the change to the fund and the province's recent string of balanced budgets.
"We're one of two jurisdictions in Canada that has a surplus and also supports the film industry."
While the fund is now more transparent, one thing it hasn't done is save the government any money. In fact, in this past budget year the government spent as much as it ever did in a single calendar year of film and television, about $22 million.
Tory finance critic Tim Houston said it's clear the government's efforts damaged the industry and recovery is a long way off.
"They're spending as much money — more money now, and we have a smaller industry and fewer people working in it."
New Democrat MLA Lisa Roberts said the labour numbers should be concerning. She criticized Miller for suggesting things are recovering.
"We haven't gotten to 900 full-time equivalent jobs, and for every year from 2006-07 until 2014-15, we were over that. So we haven't even hit the bottom of the range, let alone gotten back to an average."