Having laid waste to the Saskatchewan film and TV industry with its much criticized axing of the Film Employment Tax Credit, the Sask. Party government announced today that it’s going to embark on a round of consultations on how it will fund creative industries in Saskatchewan in the future.
To spark discussion, the Ministry of Parks, Culture & Sport has released a paper titled Moving Saskatchewan’s Creative Industries Forward. The government is inviting feedback on the proposals contained in the document until Sept. 15, after which it is planning to engage in face-to-face meetings with industry professionals in Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert.
One question asked on page 8 of the nine page policy document is “How would a non-refundable tax credit help your business?” That’s the route the government went with the film industry, when it replaced what had been a refundable tax credit with a non-refundable tax credit. The industry’s response was that such a credit would do nothing to help their business and, as reported earlier, a number of local production companies have announced plans to pull up stakes and move to other provinces with more favourable tax regimes.
That’s likely to be the situation with most creative industries in the province. That’s because, as those industries are currently structured, the amount of revenue that is generated, and profit that is earned after all the production expenses have been accounted for, is typically so low that the person/organization’s tax liability is next to zero anyway. So a non-refundable tax credit is of no value.
What does benefit cultural producers, however, is a direct investment of funds at the front end of the production process to give the person/organization a fighting chance to survive in their industry of choice. That doesn’t mean that industry professionals aren’t anxious to expand market opportunities and grow their revenue base. But the challenges of doing so in a province (and country) as sparsely populated as Saskatchewan/Canada are formidable. As well, by their very nature, the arts are not suited to a market economy model that privileges consumer demand over the autonomy of the creator. That’s the realm of entertainment not art.
And for those of you out there who say that if artists insist on operating independent of market forces, they should do so on their own dime, that’s essentially what they’re already doing. Surveys consistently show that income earned by artists in Canada place the vast majority of them well below the poverty line. As for public funding of their endeavours, in the last provincial budget spending for 2012-13 was estimated at $11.2 billion dollars. Of that amount, a little over $6 million was allocated to the Saskatchewan Arts Board, which is the primary funder of arts activity in the province. That’s not the sole source of funding that artists and arts organizations rely on, of course, but when you do the math, SAB funding is roughly .05 per cent of provincial expenditures.
In the minds of some people, that might qualify as an egregious entitlement. But compared to all the subsidies and incentives that the province provides in a multitude of areas from sports and recreation to business and education that benefit Saskatchewan citizens its a drop in the proverbial bucket.