Film, TV, gaming left out of BC Jobs Plan

Premier Christy Clark’s BC Jobs Plan boosts agrifoods, forestry, mining, natural gas, international education, technology, tourism and transportation – but not the declining film, television or videogame industries.

An Arts and Culture Branch report created after December 2011 industry meetings, obtained by the NDP via Freedom of Information, said, “Government has taken a close look at the screen-based entertainment industry as a possible focus for the Jobs Plan, and has not found a compelling case for any additional emphasis on this sector.”

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The report said government challenged industry to speak with a unified voice, identify job, investment and export opportunities, present a five- to 10-year vision for the industry and identify government’s role.

“Given that there is no new money, how can the government use (or) enhance its existing suite of tools such as tax credits and regulations to support the development of the industry,” said the report.

The report acknowledged industry suffered “stakeholder fatigue,” the “feeling that government does not understand or appreciate the industry” and “frustration with having to deal with multiple ministries and individuals within those ministries.”

The only major funding announcement since Clark became premier was last July, when the Community, Sport and Cultural Development ministry pledged a $2.2 million package for BC Film + Media, BC Film Commission and regional film commissions. The government had already heard from industry players wanting B.C. to compete with Ontario’s 2009-instituted 25% all-spend tax credit. B.C. offers a 33% refundable tax credit on labour costs only. Ontario taxpayer support helped that province overtake B.C. to become North America’s third-biggest production centre behind California and New York. Ontario’s 2010 film and TV production industry had $1.26 billion in revenue in 2011, compared with B.C.’s $1.19 billion.

“If the competitive environment remains unchanged, there is little prospect of a reversal,” said an internal briefing note by Vancouver Film Studios president Pete Mitchell, sent December 19, 2011. Mitchell’s note said in 2008, Ontario’s $671 million industry was worth half of B.C.’s. On a $160 million feature film, the tax credit in Ontario is $23.4 million – $7.3 million better than B.C.

“With the reinstatement of PST/GST, the competitive advantage that Ontario currently enjoys will grow by the 7% PST that is paid by producers in B.C., but not Ontario,” said Mitchell’s note.

VFS is owned by the McLean Group, whose patriarch David McLean is chair of CN Rail, a BC Liberal bagman and one of Clark’s biggest supporters.

Brightlight Pictures moved half of its 15 workers to Toronto in 2009 in the wake of Ontario’s tax credit change. Last July, Rockstar Games was enticed to Ontario by subsidies and closed its 35-person Vancouver studio.

“If losing $200 million worth of business isn't enough to get them off their butts, I don't know what is,” said NDP culture critic Spencer Chandra Herbert. “To claim that there was no reason to consider it in the BC Jobs Plan really reinforces for me that the government has no interest in the creative economy or sees that the jobs in it are valuable.”

According to a joint statement from the Finance and Jobs, Tourism and Innovation ministries, CSCD consulted with industry in Vancouver, Victoria and the Okanagan last fall to explore how government can continue to work effectively with the sector.

“During these consultations, industry indicated a need for a sector-wide strategic approach to cope with change, beginning with a fresh study of the current state of the industry in British Columbia. That study is currently in process,” said the statement provided to Business in Vancouver.

If there are any tax changes forthcoming, they would be announced in the February 19 provincial budget.

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