Keeping track of all the money the film business brings into the province would be impossible. In 2001, K-19: The Widowmaker was shooting in Halifax, and one of my side gigs was doing occasional reporting for People magazine. When the celebrity rumour mill said Harrison Ford was up to something salacious, I got the call from New York to roam around local bars he’d been spotted in and find out if anyone saw him up to no good.
I didn’t find any gossip, but I still got paid for my time–well-paid, in strong US dollars—and spent all that money in Halifax. Some of it in the same Argyle Street bars where Ford hung out. That cash, like the proceeds from a Titanic movie assignment for People, isn’t showing up in the ledger of film benefits to Nova Scotia. Yet that’s exactly what it was: money coming into our economy thanks to the local movie business.
Premier Stephen McNeil and his Liberal government are dead wrong to cut the tax credit our film industry is built on. They know it, too. No issue in recent memory has spawned this level of public response. And from ongoing reporting, we’ve seen plenty of that response has come from industry professionals whose understanding of the tax credit and its benefits vastly exceeds the government’s.
The government made an uninformed decision that might save something like $20 million in order to make at least $130 million disappear from the economy. The public understands that’s a ruinous deal, so for the good of our province we’re demanding our elected representatives admit they didn’t get it, swallow their pride and make this right. A mistake is loads easier to forgive than stubborn refusal to check the facts.
The ongoing meetings between the film industry and the finance department signal a compromise in the works that will save a substantial part of the credit. Harder to predict is what the Liberals will take away from this teachable moment. With the right vision, government could help develop the local industry so its biggest value proposition isn’t just a big tax rebate. But right now McNeil must be wishing he could close his eyes and make the whole business disappear.