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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Creating a 'censorship' bogeyman

Here's my bottom line in the ongoing debate over the Conservatives' plan to give the heritage minister some discretionary power in the financial support of privately produced films: A government's refusal to give a filmmaker some grant money from the public purse does not constitute censorship. Filmmakers have no right to expect or receive a penny of government support for anything they produce.

Read my full Tri-City News column on the subject here. Read that of Mary Woo Sims, my debating partner in the ongoing Face to Face series, here.

Posted by Terry O'Neill on May 25, 2008 in Canadian Politics | Permalink


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But since the tax credit has nothing to do with the film subsidies, all this bill does is turn the Minister of Canadian Heritage into the arbiter of Canadian culture, instead of granting real Canadians this privilege via the marketplace.

The Conservatives didn't eliminate the film subsidies, which would have been the principled thing to do. Instead, they decided to further expand the power held in a ministerial office that should be abolished. Post C-10, this will be the Ministry of Propaganda.

Bill C-10 is a bad bill. Sorry to have to disagree, Terry.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-05-25 6:30:43 PM

Because the HarperCONs have excluded American productions from the C-10 censorship bill, even if it passes, count on your tax $$$ crediting films like American Psycho, Freddy vs. Jason, and Saw IV.

HarperCONs loves them Americans too much for the censoristas to deny them your tax credits for their filth.

Posted by: joe bleau | 2008-05-25 6:50:27 PM

I am with you on this one Matthew. If they produce something good on their own dime, it will fly on its own merits. Furthermore we could do without a Ministry of Heritage altogether.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-05-25 7:54:17 PM

The CBC, Telefilm Canada and the NFB should be either brought under strict control, including censorship, or disbanded entirely. Catastrophes like "The Valor and the Horror" which denied the Holocaust occurred could be avoided in the future.

My dream: first act of a my government will be to destroy the CBC, TC and NFB - not privatize, but eliminate from the planet entirely. All staff fired, all film placed in secret archives never to be seen again, and all facilities demolished.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-05-25 8:18:27 PM

We don't need to erase film history, just the government's future role in it, Zebulon.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-05-25 8:21:56 PM

Terry, you wrote:

“All that the Tory government is attempting to do is to ensure that the money that Telefilm Canada lavishes on the national film industry ‘would not be contrary to public policy.’ Granted, this is a broad power that might have the potential to be misused but the government has repeatedly stated it has no intention to act like a censor.”


Are you saying that as long as the government promises to never misuse their new “broad power,” that’s enough for you?

“Scout’s honour.” “Pinkie swear.” “Cross my heart and swear to die.” “You can trust us.”

That’s a pretty flimsy assurance from a government that may or may not be around when the full force of this new law is applied...or misapplied.

And why should the film industry be beholden to the aesthetic or ideological preferences of the Heritage minister?

I asked this question in another post: Do you think the postal subsidy given to magazines should make them beholden to the same minister?

I don’t mean to be obnoxious, but this legislation is a cowardly and dangerous way to deal with a real problem: the production of films with tax dollars.

It’s cowardly because the real solution is to reduce or eliminate direct film subsidies. And it’s dangerous because, by your own admission, it grants the government broad new power to place the creative energy of the nation at the behest of the state. It’s not censorship; it’s an attempt at propaganda.

Secondly, there is an important difference between a tax credit and a subsidy.

Here’s one side of an exchange I had with Niels Veldhuis from the Fraser Institute about this issue:

"Hi, Matthew. While a cash subsidy and a tax credit are different, they have the same economic effect in that they lower the costs of production for firms.

Some argue that the main difference between the two is that money earned by businesses first belongs to those [who] created it and thus in most cases it is not correct to label a credit as a subsidy. However, if one business or sector is given preferential treatment then there is certainly a valid argument that a credit is indeed a subsidy."

Veldhuis raises two valid points. First, the film tax credit scheme could be seen as preferential treatment of the film industry. But support for this bill is coming from pro-family groups; it’s not coming from competing sectors to the film industry looking for a level tax playing field. Also, the bill would not help a competitor to the film industry as the legislation does not remove the tax credit.

Second, and more importantly, he points out that a cash subsidy and a tax credit are different. This is essential as Bill C-10 does nothing to reduce cash subsidies to the film industry.

I also asked former Fraser Institute scholar and professor of economics Dr. Walter Block about Bill C-10. Here’s what he had to say:

“A tax credit reduces taxes. Therefore, it is good....When the government fails to tax us, they are not subsidizing us. Unless, that is, they are the proper owners of the entire GDP, which I deny.”

This bill was originally a Liberal idea. It should die that way.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-05-25 10:40:28 PM

OK: I actually agree with your main point that the government should get out of the film-subsidy business entirely. The original debate with Mary Woo Sims was on the narrower subject of whether the new bill would give the government censorship powers; obviously, I felt that the mere withholding of grant money did not constitute censorship. I still feel that way. That said, I should have declared my position on the bigger issue regarding the existence of the subsidies in the first place.

Posted by: Terry O'Neill | 2008-05-26 9:18:55 AM

Well, I agree with your main point: Bill C-10 is not exactly censorship.

But I still have to complain about your take on the proposed legislation. You wrote:

"I felt that the mere withholding of grant money did not constitute censorship."

Bill C-10 would not withhold grant money that comes through Telefilm Canada or other granting agencies. It would only deny tax credits to films that the Heritage minister doesn't like after the films have been produced with government money.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-05-26 9:49:01 AM

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