Nova Scotia's premier says it's time for the province's film and television industry to get back to work and stop complaining about the controversial changes his government made to the film tax credit in its spring budget.
Stephen McNeil's comments came during a wide-ranging conversation with LighthouseNOW last week in Lunenburg. The entire Liberal caucus spent Wednesday in the area with businesses, arts groups and community organizations, and McNeil held his weekly cabinet meeting at Oak Island the following day.
McNeil's comments about the film industry came one day after his government announced funding for the first two projects under the new subsidy program. Two more were announced on Thursday.
"I would argue that the negative press that the industry has been putting on themselves has been more detrimental to the sector than any change we made," said McNeil. "If you're somebody looking to invest in this province and all you hear is negativity about a very good subsidy, what are you going to do? You're going to think long and hard before you decide to come this way.
"I believe people shoot films here for more than just that subsidy," the premier continued, "and the sooner that sector recognizes that and starts promoting it, we'll see it grow."
McNeil acknowledged that his government could have better handled the change - which was a clear retreat from a campaign promise in 2013 to maintain and increase the tax credit - but his cash-strapped government had no choice but to reign in its spending on the film sector.
"Obviously when you look back, you might do something differently, but still get the same result. We're in the right place for this province. There is business happening in Nova Scotia and there will continue to be."
"We had the most lucrative film tax credit in Canada, 50 to 65 cents on the dollar on all labour. Our percentage of the Canadian industry didn't grow. Our dollar amount grew because the industry expanded but our percentage didn't grow, between two and three per cent."
The premier maintained the new subsidy, which pays 25 per cent of all production costs, is still quite attractive to those looking to shoot movies and TV shows in the province.
"It's more than just on the labour side now. It's on the costumes made here, the hotel rooms you rent, all of the things that you do in Nova Scotia. We're being told by people in the industry that they can work with this. Would they prefer what they had before? Absolutely. And I get that. If we were that industry, we'd prefer that too."
There has been just one feature film shot in Lunenburg County this year. "The Healer" was produced under the old funding formula, but one of its producers has been quoted as saying it likely would have happened under the new system as well. Production on the long-running "Haven" series did not resume this year, but it's unclear whether there were plans for a sixth season.
On another controversial topic, the premier said opposition claims that his government is prepared to give up millions of dollars in revenues by privatizing motor vehicle, land and companies registries are ridiculous.
"Anyone who suggests the government is going to give up that revenue is just being nonsensical. No government can afford to."
McNeil said the government is looking for the most cost-effective way of delivering those services. He notes that the Ivany Report called for "bold change" in the way the government operates, and there's already a huge controversy when it's just talking about privatization.
"All we're doing at this point is looking at it and asking 'is there a different way of delivering this service that doesn't cost as much to deliver it?' Because what they [the opposition] are not telling you is that we're already giving up a good chunk of money to deliver the service."
McNeil said it's possible the services would be delivered by the same people working for a different employer, or in the same locations, as they are now.
"We may find, quite honestly, is the way we're doing it now is the best way. And we'll communicate to Nova Scotians. There may be one, or all, or none [that are privatized] but really, we have made no decisions."
It was reported last week that Chris MacInnes, who managed McNeil's 2013 election campaign and had moved on to lobby for Teranet Inc., an Ontario company that has landed lengthy contracts to take over land registries in Ontario and Manitoba, had withdrawn from lobbying for similar work in Nova Scotia.
Next week, the premier's comments on reorganizing municipal government in Lunenburg County, and the challenge of attracting health care professionals to the South Shore.