Brad Wall's Closed Mind Closes Door On Sask Film Industry And Drives Hundreds Of Jobs Out Of The Province
"The puzzling thing about Brad Wall's decision to cut the film tax credit (albeit, after a three month extension to July 1) is the unusual stridency we're hearing from the Saskatchewan premier.
After all, this is a premier who has gone to great lengths to distance himself from policy positions that would politically label him. Wall has repeatedly told us it's not about right or left - it's about up or down. In fact, Wall's political charm/success has been intertwined with his ability to come across as something other than a strident, uncompassionate conservative. And given Tuesday's news from Angus Reid polling that suggests Wall still leads all premiers with a 70-per-cent approval rating, the formula still seems to work.
It's also why you so seldom hear a strident political statement from him like last week's tweet on the film industry that stated: "If an industry cannot survive at all without a permanent taxpayer subsidy, should the taxpayers subsidize indefinitely?"
So why does Wall now seem so set on eliminating "grants" (as he now calls them) to the film industry? Even if Wall's argument that the film tax is really an up-front grant rather than a true "tax credit" is more valid than hair-splitting, it would seem an odd argument for the premier to make. He also says he fully understands why such upfront money was needed by the film industry for financing productions and that his Saskatchewan Party government is open to considering direct film grants anyway.
Yet Monday, we witnessed Wall's staff spinning out stories on the need to stop film tax credits across North America even as he was meeting with film industry officials. Why so strident? What else might be behind Wall's position? Well, some of it likely relates to his personality.
For one thing, it was a tough budget where the Sask. Party (at least from Wall's perspective) is simultaneously being criticized for not cutting enough and cutting too much. It's human nature for politicians to become excessively defensive to such criticism. And Wall is truly defensive to criticism - especially when you also factor in the usual political paranoia. (i.e. The film industry is aligned with the NDP and is out to embarrass him.)
Finally, most politicians have an inherent stubbornness that refuses to acknowledge they might be wrong. Wall is certainly no exception. For all his self-deprecation as premier, what you haven't ever heard him say in four-plus years is that he's so far been wrong about a government policy. (Heck, Lorne Calvert reversed increased care home fees to seniors.)
But perhaps the biggest failing in this debate - one that might actually be shared by both Wall and the film industry - is that there just hasn't been enough listening.
This is obviously an issue for Wall, who has simply brushed aside the industry's argument that hundreds of jobs and millions in economic activity are at stake with this decision. Wall has simply ignored the contention that there has been $600 million of economic activity generated by the film industry - a six-to-one return on investment .
But rather than protest, the film industry needs to take a better approach than hectoring or lecturing Wall. If Wall can't relate to the need for local production and the nature in which it's traditionally been funded, he can surely relate to the industry's economic impact. There are hundreds of businesses out there - car rentals, lumber yards, clothing stores, restaurants, etc. - that can surely attest to the benefit of a strong film industry.
For example, Sonja Clifton-Remple from Swift Current was eager to get out of this province until she discovered 15 years ago she could pursue a career in costume design here. As the costume designer for the TV series Insecurity, Clifton-Remple said she purchased $100,000 worth of clothing, locally, for this show alone. The movie Just Friends, also dropped about $100,000 on clothing, locally, and even a small movie like the yet-to-be released zombie horror flick 13 Eerie bought $14,000 worth of clothes here.
One such beneficiary has been Tammy Beltrani of Aria Boutique - a high-end Regina women's clothing store. "When a costume designer walks into your store, it's a very, very good day," said Beltrani, who not only saw $8,000 purchases for shows like Insecurity, but has maintained some of these customers through her online business.
The film industry still needs to make its case. But it won't do much good unless Wall listens with an open mind to what they have to say."
Political columnist for the Leader-Post.
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