Stephen McNeil’s Avro Arrow

From 2003 to 2013, I ran the Cape Breton Island Film Series, showing top notch independent movies to eager audiences in Sydney. A felicitous side-benefit for me is that I got to know dozens of young people in Nova Scotia’s film industry.

mcneilOn the eve of the McNeil Government’s foolhardy decision to kill that industry, I tried to reassure one of them, a young woman whose work has been celebrated in Cannes and at TIFF.

“This is an old tactic,” I said as we sipped craft beer in a Sydney pub. “Diana Whalen is deliberately scaring you so that when they trim the credit back a bit, you’ll be thrilled they didn’t kill it altogether. The credit probably is a little too rich. But they won’t be stupid enough to kill it altogether.”

My friend was unconvinced. “Just about every interesting young person I know in Halifax is here because of the film industry,” she said. “Without it, they will leave.”

Well, I was wrong and my friend was right. Turns out Whalen and McNeil are stupid enough to kill the tax credit altogether. They may not yet understand they have killed it, and the industry that relies on it, but they have. Here’s Michael Donovan of DHX Media Inc., one of our homegrown movie and video production successes, explaining:

The government has killed the local industry. That may not have been their intention, but that’s what they have done. The NS government doesn’t understand the impact. Fundamentally, they have made the NS film tax credit un-bankable in Canada. You can bank a refundable tax credit but you cannot bank a non-refundable one. That’s the key to complicated international financing.

Let’s assume—I think it’s a safe assumption—that McNeil and Whelan are philistines who’ve never seen an indie film in their lives, and don’t personally give a fig for arts and culture. No problem. They have that in common with many fine people. But part of being a responsible politician is understanding segments of society you have no personal connection to or feeling for are nevertheless crucial to the province’s future.

This is what Murray McLaughlin understood when he thanked farmers for the meal with a song that was real.

Now If I come on by, when you’re out in the sun
Can I wave at you just like a friend
These days when everyone’s taking so much
There’s somebody giving back in

An economist could probably calculate how many hundreds of thousands of dollars “The Farm Song” has added to Canada’s economy. This much is certain: without counterintuitive tax and content policies intended to shore up songwriters, you and I would never have heard it.

whalenThe Ivany Commission understood that a thriving, local, cultural community is one of the few economic magnets we have for generating economic growth in our lonely corner of the world. Citing studies linking the arts, culture and creative sectors to “growth in employment, community development, and social inclusion and well-being,” the commission pointed out that the creative sector generated $871 million in 2009, up 66 percent from 2001.

These numbers reflect the dynamism and breadth of the sector, as well as the depth of the local creative industry supply chain. The creation of Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia in 2012 reflects the acknowledged and growing importance of creative industries to the province, and the need for a more strategic approach to grow the sector.

Many of the smartest, keenest, most creative young people in Nova Scotia—exemplars of the people we need to retain and attract if Nova Scotia is to succeed—will leave the province because of yesterday’s budget. They may not be packing yet, but they are gone.

McNeil and Whalen kicked them out yesterday.