Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bill C-10 and Government patronage of the film industry

The tax Bill C-10 was recently introduced by the Tories, and the film financing section stirred up some major controversy. They want to ammend the way the film industry receives tax credits from the Government, allowing the Heritage minister to deny these subsidies on a case by case basis. For example, if the film in question amounts to little more than soft-core pornography, the minister can say "no tax credits for you".

When it was first unveiled, many in the industry cried "censorship!" (David Cronenberg, whom I otherwise admire, said "it sounds like something they do in Bejing") and spoke gravely of the death of the Canadian film industry (of course, something has to be alive before it can die), because without these tax credits, it would be very difficult for smaller filmmakers to attain funding for their projects. True enough.

Leaving aside the fact that I can't remember the last time I watched a Canadian movie, it's a bit bizarre that allowing the Government to decide which films receive subsidies paid for by our tax dollars should somehow amount to "censorship" (with one important caveat, which I will get into below). Like filmmakers in any other country, nothing is stopping Canadian directors and producers from making the movies they want to make, provided they can secure the necessary financing through the private sector. "Censorship", in my view, would be Government control over what movies are allowed to be made and which ones aren't. This is not what is being discussed.

In any case, the Liberal controlled Senate has made some ammendments to the bill in the hopes of reaching a compromise. They are as follows:

*Remove the right of the heritage minister to refuse tax credits based on "public policy" or to issue guidelines about film content.
*Give producers an efficient judicial appeal mechanism if the minister blocks or delays funding.

*Continue to prevent government funding of pornography, child pornography, and hate propaganda.

Assuming that the Heritage minister retains some right to discriminate on funding, all of these sound okay to me, to be perfectly honest. I don't think it's a big scandal for the minister to be able to choose which movies to fund or not, but it shouldn't be done on a political basis (that would be disturbingly close to the creation of a government propaganda office, only giving tax credits to films that promote their policies), nor should there be a set of specific guidelines and rules about content (since similar "content" can be presented in different ways and for different purposes). Numbers 2 and 3 also seem eminently reasonable.

Of course, passing the larger Bill C-10 is a confidence vote, so if this compromise is still deemed unacceptable, it has the potential to bring down the Government. I wouldn't have expected it over something like this, but never underestimate the political influence of those in danger of losing their handouts.

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