Policy Matters: Bad Form?

3 mins read

You have to hand it to Canadian filmmakers. They’re decisive when it comes to creating a flashpoint to rally the troops. I refer of course to the storm of protest caused by that dry-as-dust technical omnibus document, Bill C-10. In it lies a small bomb for the industry in the form of a clause that, if enacted, would serve as a lever to prevent tax credits flowing to programmes deemed rife with gratuitous sex and violence.

Evidently the checks and balances already in the funding system—a Sisyphean gauntlet to most producers —don’t reassure the Harper government. Instead, it’s pushing through legislation started during Sheila Copps’s day as Heritage Minister but now tweaked for the ear of family values’ buzzard Charles McVety, of Canada Christian College fame. They then held their collective noses and let it rip.

Despite McVety’s contented crow, the cry of “Censorship!” is technically not correct. Bill C-10 wouldn’t impose formal restraint on the production or distribution of any particular programme or film. It’s just that in very Canadian practical terms, we know that a refusal to grant tax credits would be disastrous and yes, tantamount to content shaping for moral and ideological reasons.

So, we’ve clung to reassurances from senators like Romeo Dallaire that this thing “ain’t a done deal” by a long shot.

By the time you read this, hopefully, Dallaire and his colleagues will have worked their magic and Bill C-10 will be history. Maybe so, but something out of this scandal troubled me more, and it was the embarrassing absence of Heritage Minister Josée Verner from the recent Genie Awards.

There are several meanings to glean from this act of bad form and they’re all possible: that Harper treats his ministers like puppets so Verner was not permitted to speak or face filmmakers to offer up reassurances; relatedly, that accountability itself is not a priority for the Conservatives; and that Heritage fails to fundamentally comprehend the industry and how it functions, and therefore failed to effectively communicate what little it does understand to the PMO. Any way you look at it, it shows a failure to nurture the industry, even in easy ways. I was struck, for instance, by Sarah Polley telling the CBC how disappointed she was to receive a letter of congratulation from the Heritage Minister—for her Oscar nomination, not for her Genie ones. Ouch.

Barri Cohen is an award-winning producer, writer, and director. She co-produced Phyllis Ellis’ Toxic Beauty (2019) and is currently completing a feature documentary for the Documentary Channel.

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