Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stephen Harper versus Sara Stanley

For a guy who doesn't believe in big government, this Harper chap sure does like to have complete control over everything. The latest example deals with Bill C-10 which gives the government the ability to deny tax credits to Canadian (and only Canadian) films they deem offensive.

This has prompted some high profile criticism from Sarah Polley, among others, who was doing the media circuit today in Ottawa:

“If there's something artists fear, it's censorship,” Ms. Polley said Thursday at a press conference.

“Part of the responsibility of being an artist is to create work that will inspire dialogue, suggest that people examine their long-held positions and, yes, occasionally offend in order to do so.”

[...]

The group says that if Bill C-10 is passed, it could force artists to self-censor or to go abroad to work. Ms. Polley has also said that the proposed rules threaten the financial foundation of Canada's film and TV industry.

[...]

“This will put a chill on the entire TV and film industry,” Ms. Schechter said, adding that the tax credits are designed as an incentive to hire Canadian workers.

Equally upsetting to Canada's cultural sector is the fact that the legislation, criticized as a "morality hammer," applies only to Canadian TV and film projects. Hollywood and other foreign productions that apply for tax credits get a free pass.

Ms. Polley and other opponents say rules already exist under the Criminal Code to protect against investment in films featuring excessive pornography or hate.

Labels:

23 Comments:

  • “It’s the job of artists to provoke and to challenge. Part of the responsibility of being an artist is to create work that will inspire dialogue, suggest that people examine their long-held positions and, yes, occasionally offend in order to do so.”

    Do you think she includes the Danish "Mohammed" cartoons too? Or is just Christians who can be offended?

    By Anonymous James Goneaux, at 9:23 PM  

  • I say don't sweat stuff like this. The Cons won't be in power forever and they'll have given the left a whole new set of powers that can be used to beat them and their causes up. Muahahahaha!

    By Blogger Robert McClelland, at 10:30 PM  

  • Ms. Polley would be a lot more impressive if she acknowledged the elephant in the room. She will never get an opportunity to direct Canada's answer to Brideshead Revisited so long as Kink and Kenny vs Spenny are soaking up the lion's share of the government grants.

    This is an issue of patronage and nothing but. The filmakers want fistfulls of cash with no strings attached. They might have an argument if they were turning out better product, but since they aren't, they should go to the markets like everyone else.

    By Anonymous herringchoker, at 11:20 PM  

  • I have no issue with "artist" producing and offering up anything their little heart desires; but taxpayers should have some say in what we want our tax dollars going to. In your business model, if your project requires government money to be viable, then you obviously have no illusions about the public supporting your production by actually throwing down dollars to attend. Good rule of thumb for these projects....don't bother doing them, simple.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:40 AM  

  • If denying this particular tax credit constitutes "censorship", then "news, current events or public affairs programming", which is explicitly disqualified from the credit, has been CENSORED EVERY DAY FOR YEARS!

    By Blogger Brian Dell, at 4:33 AM  

  • I was censored by the government just the other day, when they didn't send me a cheque for writing "government sucks" on a napkin.

    Also, there are things one might not want to subsidize in the public interest not covered by existing statutes... Karla/Deadly comes to mind. Moreover, this power will almost certainly be rarely used because of the storm of crap summoned up whenever it is violated.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 6:37 AM  

  • I think Sarah Polley can beat up Stephen Harper.

    By Blogger James Bowie, at 8:58 AM  

  • sarah polley should join the CBC for a fully funded JOB(sic)?

    By Blogger art, at 9:51 AM  

  • Because opponents have totally ignored this aspect, I'll point out that Liberals tried to do the exact same thing in 2003.

    I say don't sweat stuff like this. The Cons won't be in power forever and they'll have given the left a whole new set of powers that can be used to beat them and their causes up. Muahahahaha!

    Yeah, conservatives will be very upset when a Liberal government starts canceling all those subsidies to right-wing productions...

    Seriously, the main responsibility our elected leaders have is to decide how much of our money to tax, and how to spend that money once they have it. This is exactly the sort of thing they should be deciding.

    If these people in the Canadian entertainment industry really cared about stopping censorship, they would be advocating for the removal of all government subsidies and tax credits for their work, because that's the only way to ensure that the gov't isn't influencing the content.

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 10:46 AM  

  • Censorship?

    So anything that doesn't receive government funding is being censored?

    Only in Canada.

    By Blogger sir john a., at 10:56 AM  

  • Not one of your more auspiciously timed posts, CG. At a time when our right to free expression is being trampled upon by these Kafkaesque human rights commissions, you chose to beat the drum of a bunch of spoiled, self-important, narcissists who never saw an entitlement they weren't entitled to.

    As a blogger and someone with an elevated interest in this fundamental human right, I implore you to make your priorities clear.

    By Blogger Dr. Strangelove, at 11:52 AM  

  • I do not understand how not providing government funding for art is construed as censorship, artists can still go out and make their quasi-porn "art". I agree that it makes it an unequal playing field for really edgy artists, and I also agree that the government shouldnt be in charge of decidin who gets funding, it is the marketplace that should. Take all the artists off the government teat while we are at it.

    I understand there is a need for art in society, and that need is often under appreciated in a market based society. I also think, however, that it is this under appreciation that most often inspires good art. The government teat will do nothing for promoting good art, and in fact it may be a hindrance.

    By Blogger James McKenzie, at 12:13 PM  

  • I would be a little more sympathetic to the comments above if:

    1) They acknowledged that this change isn't to government funding, a government grant or a subsidy; it's a tax credit. C-10 is a series of changes to the Income Tax Act, specifically section 119 (3)(b).

    So to be clear, the government isn't sending these people fistfuls of money as mentioned above, rather they hand over less in tax to the government in the first place. (Something I thought conservatives were for, right?) Religious institutions and people who have kids get tax credits too. Are they getting grants or fistfuls of money from the government too?

    2) I would be more sympathetic if the law actually told people what qualifies for the tax credit and what doesn't. As written it seems left to some bureaucrat's personal taste, which is just asking for abuse.

    3) I would be more sympathetic if someone would explain why American/foreign productions are exempt from the morality police but Canadian productions aren't.

    None of that has been addressed in comments so far.

    By Blogger toujoursdan, at 12:49 PM  

  • Thank you Toujoursdan for pointing out the blindingly obvious most people seem to have missed.

    A tax credit is not necessarily a tax refund, and it is only Canadian productions that are now subject to not receiving this tax credit at the government's whim.

    So what this really means is that our government is now giving tax credits to help bolster filming that specifically isn't Canadian. Hey, while we're at it, why not subsidize American softwood for another billion or two?

    This is NOT providing government funding, that's just spin from the social-conservatives who'd love to dictate what we can produce (hence why it's restricted to Canadian productions only). This is lowering taxes to enhance the Canadian film industry -- or at least it was before it became politicized.

    Under-appreciation of art in a marketplace/mass society doesn't lead to better art, it leads to lowest-common denominator art. Wife Swap and American Idol as opposed to Intelligence and The Nine.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:27 PM  

  • "So what this really means is that our government is now giving tax credits to help bolster filming that specifically isn't Canadian. Hey, while we're at it, why not subsidize American softwood for another billion or two?"

    Good point.

    By Blogger JimTan, at 5:36 PM  

  • The point of giving the movie industry tax credits is that they would go elsewhere if they were not there. It is just that simple. Likening these tax credits to caving into the softwood lumber is ridiculous. By the way, Hollywood has helped reduce costs for local producers by growing a whole set of Canadian businesses devoted to the film industry that previously did not exist.

    As for this particular bill, there is no better way of nipping would be Canadian productions in the bud. Without any objective standards as to what would contravene public decency, Canadian producers, who are already working on razor thin budgets will self censor. After all, not only do they have to worry about catering to the whims of the current minister they have to worry about whims of future ministers. Tax credits may be retroactively taken away.

    By Blogger Koby, at 6:35 PM  

  • If the industry created anything worth watching, subsidies and tax breaks wouldn't be needed.

    By Blogger Nastyboy, at 9:48 PM  

  • To respond to toujoursdan's points:

    1) Tax credits for these things aren't as bad as directly subsidizing them, but there's still an issue of opportunity cost. If they remove the tax credits, that's more money available to the government for cutting taxes across the board, or paying down the debt, or funding health care, etc.

    It is the government's responsibility to prioritize the nation's finances... and IMHO, giving special breaks to movies that no one watches is a long way down the priority list.

    2) Aren't the current funding decisions already "left to some bureaucrat's personal taste", in that someone at the Canadian Television Fund (or whatever agency it is) decides which productions get funding or tax breaks? This bill just gives the Minister of Heritage a say, too.

    3) Right you are! Hopefully, they'll get rid of the tax credits for foreign productions, too. :)

    Anonymous: Under-appreciation of art in a marketplace/mass society doesn't lead to better art, it leads to lowest-common denominator art. Wife Swap and American Idol as opposed to Intelligence and The Nine.

    I'd don't watch the first two, and I've never heard of the last two. (And who says the latter are better than the former, anyway?)

    Koby: Without any objective standards as to what would contravene public decency, Canadian producers, who are already working on razor thin budgets will self censor.

    Or they can come up with a business/investment model that doesn't require gov't tax breaks, and then produce whatever they want with no fear of "censorship".

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 11:52 PM  

  • "... and IMHO, giving special breaks to movies that no one watches is a long way down the priority list."

    Try this ...


    Japan shies away from shrine film

    By Chris Hogg
    BBC News, Tokyo
    An old man wearing a white tunic and a dark apron, steps into the frame from the right of the cinema screen.
    From a scabbard he pulls a long ceremonial sword. Calmly and with precision, he carves an arc in the air above his head with the blade, before bringing it down firmly, deliberately in the space in front of him.
    Naoji Kariya, who is 90, is the last living swordsmith at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, the place where Japan remembers its war dead.
    He is one of the characters interviewed at length for a new documentary, simply entitled Yasukuni, made by Chinese film-maker Li Ying.
    The film has attracted criticism from some lawmakers in Japan, who have described it as "anti-Japanese."
    Those comments have been blamed for inciting right-wing activists to make threats of violence and stage protests against cinemas that planned to show the movie this weekend.

    "'Anti-Japanese' was a phrase that was used here often before the Sino-Japanese War," the director says.
    "It was used to encourage nationalism. It's a very dangerous phrase. Those who use it are irresponsible."
    The joint Sino-Japanese production was partly financed by the Japanese taxpayer. The film-makers were given a grant of 7.5 million yen.
    Some politicians have questioned whether this was an appropriate use of public funds, claiming that the film should have been more balanced.
    In all, Li Ying has spent 10 years, on and off, making the film.

    It was the place where the kamikaze pilots promised each other they would meet again once their deadly missions were complete.
    To many it is one of the most sacred places in Japan. To others it is a place they feel glorifies war.

    By Blogger JimTan, at 1:22 AM  

  • >>>> Tax credits for these things aren't as bad as directly subsidizing them, but there's still an issue of opportunity cost.

    You are getting confused with the oil industry. There is an opportunity cost associated with not charging the oil companies higher royality fees. However there no opportunity cost associated with given tax credits to the movie industry. The movie industry would pack up and leave, the oil companies will pay more.

    >>>>> Aren't the current funding decisions already "left to some bureaucrat's personal taste", in that someone at the Canadian Television Fund (or whatever agency it is) decides which productions get funding or tax breaks?

    No

    >>>>> Without any objective standards as to what would contravene public decency, Canadian producers, who are already working on razor thin budgets will self censor.

    In other words you would be happy if there were no Canadian productions.

    By Blogger Koby, at 5:59 AM  

  • However there no opportunity cost associated with given tax credits to the movie industry. The movie industry would pack up and leave, the oil companies will pay more.

    If that were true, then no movies would get made anywhere without government aid, and Hollywood never would have existed.

    No

    So which productions get tax breaks/funding is determined by a random lottery, then? Or are you saying everyone who applies gets it?

    In other words you would be happy if there were no Canadian productions.

    Not happy, just indifferent. It's not like anyone would miss them, anyway.

    "Insisting that the government fund Canadian movies, and then not watching them: a proud part of our Canadian heritage."
    -- This Hour Has 22 Minutes

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 12:19 AM  

  • >>>> So which productions get tax breaks/funding is determined by a random lottery, then? Or are you saying everyone who applies gets it?

    There are objective criteria and if you meet the criteria you get the tax credit. It could not be more different than Bill C-10.

    >>>>>> If that were true, then no movies would get made anywhere without government aid, and Hollywood never would have existed.

    Let me get this straight. Hollywood is a good example of why no tax credits are needed; after all no Hollywood production ever migrated north to take advantage of a lower Canadian dollar, tax credits and lower wages.

    >>>>> Not happy, just indifferent. It's not like anyone would miss them, anyway.

    Figures. You would prefer that sculptors and other artists work at Star Bucks for $8 an hour in slow times instead of being able to earn up to $50 bucks an hour on set. Do have any idea what kind of money flows into the local economy from even a small production?

    By Blogger Koby, at 7:03 AM  

  • Koby,

    You aren't asking the critical question, which is whether $X spent on attracting film crews up to Canada will create more jobs than $X spent in some other way. That said, the numbers are actually pretty good.

    Canada's share of North American film productions rose from 10% to 25% of the total since the late 90's. This is a multi-billion dollar industry we are talking about, versus subsidies/tax credits that cost a great deal less.

    http://www.house.gov/list/press/ny09_weiner/021106rudy.html

    However, that is only true so long as the US does not respond in kind with its own subsidies - that would only start a subsidy war (which Canada would probably lose).

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 8:58 PM  

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