Odd behaviour by Screen NS and Price Waterhouse Coopers

Yesterday a damning independent audit of the film industry—damning, in the sense that it put the lie to claims Premier Stephen McNeil continues to use in justification for his gutting of the film tax credit—leaked out in fits and starts from Screen Nova Scotia (SNS).

SNS made the full report, which it commissioned from the accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers, available to members via a password protected internet site. It made public only a cursory summary. Inevitably the full report leaked to me and others in the media. See coverage from LocalXpress here. Download a PDF copy here.

At the HalifaxExaminer, Tim Bousquet reports that after filing its initial draft, PWC tried to tone down the report by lowering its estimate of impacts, and then insisted it not be released to the public. Bousquet reports the squabble got heated enough that both sides called in lawyers.

I’m also told that after PWC finished and delivered its report to Screen Nova Scotia, PWC rewrote it to change the numbers downward, but as a gigantic legal battle unfolded, with lawyers threatening other lawyers, the report was rewritten again, reverting back to the original. Some people suspect that the Liberals tried to interfere with the report. Still, I’m told, PWC refuses to allow Screen Nova Scotia to release the full report.

If true, this would be shocking behaviour on Price Waterhouse’s part. However, in the comment section of today’s Halifax Examiner Morning File, SNS Executive Director Erika Beatty insists it is not true:

However, there was no gigantic legal battles, no lawyers calling each other, and no political interference that I saw. Yes, the report continued to be edited and last minute details confirmed as PwC worked to ensure they delivered to us the tightest and most complete analysis possible.

I sincerely appreciated their attention to detail, and have confidence that this gives us an accurate and insightful report which will help us deliver our goal of getting these 3200 Nova Scotians back to work in an industry that (now) should undisputably be recognized as a great benefit to the province.

When challenged by other commenters, Beatty added this odd claim:

The terms of the study between PwC and CMPA, with our agreement, was to create this detailed work for Industry stakeholders and for our use with government. It’s not standard practice for details on studies like this to be released to the general public.

Fiddlesticks. As a film industry figure emailed me privately:

This is, of course, not the norm for sector-assessment reports (a strange claim from Erika) as they are always commissioned as communication tools to sway public and gov’t.

I note that the executive summary of the full PWC report includes the following mealy-mouthed disclaimer:

We note that our assessment was limited to identifying the benefits provided by the Screen Industry to Nova Scotia and has not attempted to analyse whether there are other viable alternatives for the provincial government funding (i.e., tax credits and provincial incentives) provided to the Screen Industry elsewhere in the economy of Nova Scotia, the benefits of such alternatives and how they compare to benefits provided by the Screen Industry. Our Assessment should therefore not be seen as policy advice as to how the government of Nova Scotia should deal with the Screen Industry in the future. [My emphasis.]

Oh, well then. We certainly wouldn’t want a five- or six-figure consulting report used to inform or guide policy!

Finally, I have received the following copy of the email by which PWC Partner Michael Dobner transmitted the final version of the report to SNS, redacted (not by me) to protect the names of the recipients, and further redacted (by me) to protect Mr. Dobner’s email address and the name and contact info of his assistant:

PwC Letter redacted

In case you can’t read it, the second paragraph reads:

As discussed, this report can be used in your discussions with relevant government officials regarding announced changes to the tax credit program. It cannot, however, be referenced or disclosed publicly without our prior written consent.

I find this an astonishing restriction for a contractor to attempt to impose on a paying client. I have asked Mr. Dobner for clarification and explanation, and will post anything I hear back. On his Facebook page, I asked Marc Almon, chair of SNS, for an explanation, and he has not responded. You can read Erika Beatty’s response to similar questions from me in the comment section of today’s Halifax Examiner Morning File.

It’s ECMA week here, so I will be away from my computer this evening. It may be morning before I have a chance to post any response.