Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/1/2019 (367 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There were a few quietly voiced concerns last spring that the spending restraint in the provincial government’s 2018 budget might include a cut to Manitoba’s long-entrenched Film and Video Production Tax Credit.
Such a move would not have been out of line with the provincial government’s ongoing effort to rein in spending and reduce the province’s accumulated deficit and associated debt-servicing charges.
But with hundreds of millions of dollars of film- and TV-related economic activity dependent on the tax-credit program, members of Manitoba’s production community hoped the ruling Progressive Conservatives would not make a penny-wise decision with profound pound-foolish implications.
There was relief — albeit of the temporary variety — when then-finance minister Cameron Friesen announced the $18-million tax-credit program was being renewed through the end of 2019. There was also trepidation at the accompanying announcement that a "working group" was being established to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and make recommendations regarding possible improvements.
Could the consultation process, some wondered, be an exercise in political theatrics designed to justify axing the tax credit?
Those fears were laid to rest on Tuesday, and then some, when the province not only reaffirmed its support for the film and video tax credit but also removed the "sunset clause" that delineates the program’s expiry date.
In making the province’s announcement, Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Cathy Cox recognized the importance of film and TV production to Manitoba’s economy — in the 2017-18 fiscal year, a record $173 million in production activity took place in the province, and 2018-19 appears headed toward dizzying $250-million heights — and noted that making the tax-credit program permanent will ensure "stability and predictability for Manitoba’s media production industry."
In a way, it’s fitting that the current PC government would proclaim its commitment to the film and TV sector; the industry’s value to the province’s economy was first formally recognized by the Filmon Tories in 1997 when it established the tax-credit program in an effort to attract production and work toward cementing Manitoba’s reputation as a desirable location for film and TV projects.
To call the enterprise a success would be an understatement of epic proportions. In slightly more than two decades, thanks to careful curation and aggressive promotion by industry stakeholders and continuing government support of the tax-credit scheme, what was essentially still a fledgling industry in 1997 has matured into a robust and forward-moving economic engine that attracts "from away" production companies and creative people to Manitoba in consistently increasing numbers.
As a result, local talent is developed and employed, and with each passing production cycle, the synergies created on the strength of the tax-credit program compound the financial and human-resources benefits to the province.
It seems like a political no-brainer. But there have been other jurisdictions — most notably next-door Saskatchewan, in 2012 — in which austerity-minded governments have decided to curtail tax-credit contributions to film and TV production, with predictably calamitous results. Manitoba has, to its (pun fully intended) credit, stayed the course on supporting cultural industries in creative and fiscally rewarding ways.
The Pallister government has received more than its share of negative reviews, particularly for its imposition of cost-cutting measures onto an already difficult health-care restructuring, and its overall approach to labour relations. But for its decision to guarantee ongoing, stable support for Manitoba’s robust and revenue-generating film and TV production sector, it earns a well-deserved two thumbs up.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.