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Sask Subsidies Horror Show

Author: 02/12/2007

Should our province subsidize the film and TV industry CTV-Globemedia received $4.3 billion in revenue last year through run-away successes like Corner Gas, yet our legislature keeps handing the series money.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recently unveiled a taxpayer horror show: over the past five years, the province has handed out $37 million through the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit (SFETC). The list (on http://www.taxpayer.com/pdf/Movie Tax Credit.pdf) reveals an ironic all-time winner: Corner Gas. The most popular Canadian show in recent memory received $4.8-million in its first three seasons, including $44,867 for Corner Gas Comic Genius Online. (How is a website a film ) By the time seasons four and five are accounted for, the Corner Gas bill will total $9 million. Not even Brent Butt could make this funny.

Unfortunately, Corner Gas is only one of many productions getting a steal of a deal-out of your pocket. The SFETC isn't a tax write-off, it's a rebate, paying up to 55% of Saskatchewan-based labour costs. Notable winners include:

  • 2005 movie Tideland ($1.6 M);
  • 2006 movie Just Friends ($3.1);
  • Short-run TV series Body and Soul ($1.7 M);
  • Three TV episodes of Mary Higgins Clark ($1.5 M);
  • TV program Renegade Press $1.9 million over three years; and
  • "Documentary" Sex Lives in Cyberspace, $19,250.

Close up shots of Tideland are even scarier. The show made eight times more from the SFETC than the US $197,659 it earned at the box office, perhaps because the movie features "bizarre and disturbing content, including drug use, sexuality, and gruesome situations - all involving a child" (www.imdb.com).

Worst of all is the $4.8 million given to Regina-based Mind's Eye Pictures for TV show MythQuest ($1.7 M), TV movie Sins of the Father ($1.5 M), and the Tommy Douglas Story ($1.6 M). Founder Kevin Dewalt got this gong show going in the first place. In 2001, he yanked production of Myth Quest out of Saskatchewan because we had no soundstage. So, the former NDP government got right to work building an $11 million facility in Regina. The province and federal government gave $3 million apiece and the City of Regina waived 7 years of property taxes. Ironically, Myth Quest never returned because it only ran one season.

Next, Crown Investments Corporation invested $4.5 million in Mind's Eye in 2002, and the NDP government gave it a $614,000 Centennial Grant for the Tommy Douglas Story. Still, Mind's Eye filed for bankruptcy protection in 2003, owing more than $20 million to its creditors.

No matter. The province spent another $1.1 million on the "Our Future is Wide Open" ad campaign, made by-surprise--Mind's Eye. The company avoided bankruptcy, but could not avoid widespread furor over the Tommy Douglas Story. The CBC received so many complaints over the historically inaccurate mini-series the network refused to air it twice.

Federal subsidies provide many scary sequels to this saga. In addition to the SFETC, Renegade Press received $2 million from the taxpayer-supported Canadian Television Fund. Worse still, many of the productions that receive the SFETC are eligible for a new federal program that pays an additional 16% of labour costs, making the total a whopping 71%.

Ironically, a different federal tax credit gives Saskatchewan a way out. The Canadian Video or Film Production Tax Credit pays 25% of the labour for productions not helped by a provincial program. Our province should axe SFETC handouts and let filmmakers beg Ottawa instead. Premier Wall, please hit the 'stop' button!

--Lee Harding, Sask. Director