In the harbour
1. Austerity forever
The Liberal government is slashing the provincial assistance to community groups that promote health, recreation, and addiction recovery, reports the CBC’s Jean Laroche:
For example, community health boards are going to have to make due with $250,000 less for wellness projects this year, a budget of $450,000 instead of $700,000.
The Recreational Facilities Development Fund, which provides up to $150,000 to build or help upgrade sports fields, arenas or playgrounds, is facing a major reduction.
Last year there was $2.3 million in the fund. This year, that’s being reduced by $1 million to $1.3 million.
Community grants for groups that are involved in mental health or addictions work are being cut by 40 per cent overall.
The department won’t be processing any new requests for community grants this year, as a result.
Nineteen other groups funded by the department are all seeing their funding cut by almost 25 per cent.
The community groups seeing reduced funding include St George’s YouthNet, Hope Blooms, and LGBTI support in rural Cape Breton, among others.
The Chronicle Herald’s Michael Gorman notes that “in total, there is about $4 million less across the department” of Health and Wellness:
Of note, community grants for mental health and addictions were reduced from $1 million to $600,000. There will be no calls for submissions in 2015-16. Several organizations will see grants reduced by about 23 per cent.
Many, if not all, of these groups provide services that ultimately reduce future costs to government: promoting an active lifestyle for young people will mean less in future health care expenditures, for example. Helping someone beat a crack addiction can sometimes bring almost immediate returns in savings to the court system. Reducing the spread of AIDS brings obvious cost savings.
Despite the rhetoric, austerity budgets are not about writing down debt or thinking of the future. They’re about looting the public and common wealth here and now, the future be damned.
(For more on the reference to “austerity forever,” click here.)
2. John Risley disses film tax credit that benefits his girlfriend’s ex-husband
Last Thursday, after billionaire lobster tycoon John Risley lambasted the film tax credit as “absolute nonsense…the government cannot afford to be subsidizing any industry to this extent,” I detailed the many millions of dollars Risley’s companies, Clearwater and Ocean Nutrition, have received in government assistance through the years.
Today, I publish a related article, “John Risley disses film tax credit that benefits his girlfriend’s ex-husband,” in which I reveal additionally that Risley is chair of the board of a company that is run by his girlfriend and that has received $1.6 million in government financing since Risley invested in it in 2012.
This article is behind the Examiner paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. To purchase a subscription, click here.
Additionally, the Chronicle Herald’s Brett Bundale reports that:
A Nova Scotia investment firm headed by local businessman John Risley purchased a stake in an Ottawa digital media company that received funding from the Ontario government.
Fuel Industries Inc. has repeatedly received support from the Ontario Media Development Corp.’s interactive digital media export fund.
The online interactive multimedia company also appears to be eligible for the Ontario Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit, a refundable tax credit that subsidizes 40 per cent of eligible Ontario labour costs.
3. Mark MacPhail
Yesterday, I discussed how Mark MacPhail, the executive assistant to Keith Colwell, the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, took to Twitter to accuse film industry protesters of smoking pot at last Wednesday’s demonstration outside Province House and then called film industry workers “louts.”
Many people in the political world have told me that such behaviour usually leads to disciplinary action, but on his Facebook page yesterday morning, Colwell absolved himself on any responsibility for MacPhail:
By yesterday afternoon, however, Colwell was publicly saying MacPhail should apologize, and last night Screen Nova Scotia published the following on their Facebook page:
Earlier this week Mark MacPhail, an employee of a Nova Scotia cabinet minister, tweeted some unflattering comments about workers in the screen industry. Those tweets were widely shared, and caused offense and much consternation. Late this afternoon, we received this apology from Mr. MacPhail. As it’s directed at all Screen Nova Scotia members, we wanted to share it with you:
Apr 20th, 4:49pm
Dear Screen Nova Scotia Members:
I wish to offer my sincere apology for comments I made to members of your industry recently.
I offer no excuses for my comments. However, I want to make it clear that I was not speaking on behalf of anyone in the Provincial Government.
My comments were a mistake. I have offered deep regrets to my employers. I offer the same to you, and all members of your sector.
On behalf of our members, the board of SNS accepts Mr. MacPhail’s apology. We hope he will now take a minute to view our educational video on the #NSfilmtaxcredit in order to learn more about what the film industry and #NSfilmjobs actually contribute to the NS economy.
4. Hollis Street bike lane
A city press release from yesterday:
Monday, April 20, 2015 (Halifax, NS) – Final details are being formalized as the municipality prepares for the installation of a much-anticipated bicycle lane along Hollis Street.
Residents are invited to drop in and discuss the new proposal with city staff at an open house on Thursday, April 30, from 12-2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. at 1546 Barrington Street, Suite 104 (Downtown Halifax Business Commission).
Public consultation took place last summer on the proposed bicycle lane and several good suggestions were provided to municipal staff. Many of those suggestions are being incorporated into the final design. Those suggestions include:
- The bicycle lane will now be on the left (east) side of Hollis Street and will include a 0.6 metre (two-foot) painted buffer area between the bicycle lane and the vehicle lane.
- There will be no stopping in the bicycle lane during peak hours (7-9 a.m., and 4-6 p.m.)
- Most parking meters on the right (west) side of the street will remain and some may be added. Existing accessible parking spaces on the right side of Hollis Street will also remain.
- There will be a new stop sign on Hollis Street at Terminal Road, which will help with traffic control for cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians.
The Hollis and Lower Water Street bicycle lanes were initiated through HRMbyDesign and developed through public consultation as part of the downtown street network changes implemented in 2011. The Hollis Street bicycle lane is the final element of this project.
I dunno, I’ll believe it when I see it. For its part, the Halifax Cycling Coalition seems to think it’s a done deal. The organization sent me this press release:
The Halifax Cycling is pleased to see that the Hollis Street bicycle lane will be built this summer. The Hollis Street bicycle lane was approved in 2011 as part of the one way street conversion plan. Since then, an entire cohort of university students have come and gone from the two NSCAD campuses that the lane connects. As a popular bicycle route along the city’s most important truck corridor this is an important change that will improve safety and help close some gaps in Halifax’s bicycle lane network.
“The Hollis Street bicycle lane will provide an important connection for residents who choose to ride their bicycles,” says Halifax Cycling Coalition board member Eric Jonsson. “This lane will make bicycle use more attractive as a commute option in Halifax.”
The city will be installing a painted buffer between the bicycle lane and truck traffic. Motorists will be prohibited from stopping during peak times, ensuring the lane is available when use is heaviest. The Halifax Cycling Coalition will continue to work with city staff to find appropriate loading zones so that the lane need not be used for commercial purposes. We will continue to push for the installation of plastic bollards to further separate people who ride bicycles from this commercial truck traffic.
The lane completes the missing southbound link through downtown, complementing the Lower Water Street bicycle lane. The city’s solution to bring cyclists from Upper Water Street to Hollis Street is particularly innovative. We look forward to the implementation of the lane this summer.
1. Film tax credit, pt. 1
University of Ottawa law prof Michael Geist objects to the use of film tax credits because they are a “race to the bottom“:
While the government’s approach is certainly open to criticism – abruptly cutting the tax credits without warning may force the cancellation of long-planned productions this summer – the larger question of whether it should provide massive tax relief to the film and television industry is an important one.
But the most notable Canadian study on the issue has never been publicly released and is rarely discussed. The Ontario government’s Ministry of Finance conducted a detailed review of the issue in 2011, delivering a sharply negative verdict on the benefits associated with spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year in tax credits. It recommended eliminating a 25 per cent tax credit for foreign and non-certified domestic productions that would have saved $155 million per year.
Geist used the Freedom of Information Act to try to get a copy of the Ontario review. He wasn’t able to get the complete detailed review, but he did get a presentation about the review that was made to the provincial cabinet in 2011. Interestingly, at the time Laurel Broten was an Ontario cabinet minister, sitting as Minister of Education, and so would presumably had been present for the presentation. Broten would later move to Nova Scotia, where she would author a review of the tax system that recommended changes in this province’s film tax credit.
Geist reviews that presentation and concludes:
While the economic evidence to support film and television tax credits is weak, that does not mean that governments should not support the industry, since the importance of culture extends beyond dollars and cents. Nova Scotia’s decision may be unpopular with some, but it is likely to be emulated by other governments as they assess how to support the film and television industry in a more economically responsible and effective manner.
2. Film tax credit, pt. 2
Parker Donham relates labour lawyer Ron Stockton’s objection to the use of the term “film industry,” and notes:
Stockton is making a broader and more important point. We remember great civilizations of the past more for the art works they produced—the paintings, architecture, sculpture, myths, and literature—than for their economic prowess.
In a future centuries, present day Nova Scotia is far more likely to be remembered for Trailer Park Boys, “The Boat,” Marion Bridge, and “Peter’s Dream,” than it is for Michelin Tire, Port Hawkesbury Paper, and ships that did or did not eventually start here.
If we reduce every government program to its monetary return, we lose something more important than tax revenue and jobs: We lose pieces of our heart and soul.
I agree with this, but it’s hitting on something I’ve been trying to wrap my head around for the past couple of weeks: Is the film tax credit really the best way to support the arts? I mean, I like a good laugh too, and to each their own and good luck and so forth, but if Trailer Park Boys is the pinnacle of Nova Scotian culture, maybe we’ve gone about it wrong, ya know?
In the Depression, the US federal government supported the arts through a triad of public agencies: the Federal Art Project, the Federal Writers Project, and the Federal Theatre Project. I know, times change… still, arguably, the works that came out of those federal projects have a cultural heft that escapes the millions of dollars in public subsidy we’ve more recently doled out through film tax credits. Maybe there’s something to learn there.
3. Cranky letter of the day
So, our honourable Mayor Cecil Clarke promises to say his prayers in the hallway. Silly man. God doesn’t cast a ballot. We do — us old taxpayers who were forced to spend the winter inside our homes because there were no sidewalks.
While he’s praying for snowless winters and the miracle of turning the harbour into a container terminal, we’ll be praying for a mayor who will show a little consideration for the citizens who need and use those sidewalks; someone who cares for the safety of our little ones and tries to employ more school crossings guards instead of firing the ones we have.
Phil Organ, North Sydney
Halifax & West Community Council (6pm, City Hall)—the committee will be looking at a proposed 18-storey addition to an existing 11-storey apartment building at 5885 Spring Garden Road, just east of Carleton Street.
Legislature sits (1–10pm, Province House)
Check back in 15 minutes.
Screen Nova Scotia has published a video, the first in a three-part series, explaining the film tax credit. While the video is of course told from the film industry’s point of view, it’s a fair explanation:
Bahri Tabuk, cargo ship, Baltimore to Pier 31, then sails to sea
Atlantic Cartier, container ship, Liverpool, England to FVCW, then sails to sea
Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro cargo, St. John’s to Autoport, then to Pier 41
I’ll be stuck in a government office all morning. Not sure if I’ll have internet access or not.
Re cuts to social services, I’m particularly upset by the cuts to various orgs that assist people with mental illnesses. We in NS are already far from political action that could be seen as “humane” and/or “prudent.” And now we’re charging off, again, in the wrong direction.
There’s lots could be said about your latest round of tax credit commentary and reporting. But I’ll just ask some questions.
Using the government’s own ground down figures the TC ‘out’ is something like $20m per year and the direct taxes in are around $6m So the net is $14m out.
Is that a big number?
Is it “massive”?
On a budget of $10b per year?
Beyond the jobs and income, the investment the TC draws to NS is about $150m per year. The government analysis ground that number down by amounts they imagined will come to Nova Scotia whether we have a functional industry or not. I think they’re wrong, but let’s give it to them and say the number is more like $66m per year in investment as they initially said.
And let’s forget about economic impact and multipliers and cultural and tourism benefits. Let’s even assume you are the arbiter of entertainment and there’s no value in our various productions.
66/14 is still a near 500% risk free return on the net TC paid out.
Who decides that’s not good enough? What are the other alternatives?
We have a $10b / year budget. We’re going to spend about 2% of it on Economic Development. Why would this not be part of it?
The Arm’s Race
You’ve gone to great lengths to find some support for your ‘race to the bottom’ theory. I just need to say again this is OLD news in Canada. NS set up a TC. Others followed. A market was eventually created that priced the relative advantages and disadvantages of each province and region. It was done 5-7 years ago and nothing has changed since. Ontario and others are talking about scaling back. Great! NS should be a fast first follower. If Ontario reduces their rate we should do so too – proportionally. We’re not looking for any particular rate, just to be a little more attractive than Ontario to compensate for our geopolitical, market access, and investment capital disadvantages. Does that sound reasonable? Compare and contrast this prudent fiscal policy with what happened this month.
Is there really a world where unlike every other government in every other region, territory, city, province and country there has ever been in the world, that Nova Scotia alone will not set aside some small part of it’s annual budget to pursue Economic Development ideas and opportunities? Are the people calling for this to be taken seriously?
FWIW, just because I link to something doesn’t mean I agree with it wholeheartedly.
I’ve said all along that I’m ambivalent about the film tax credit. Whatever my reservations, tho, the Liberals have lost me with their high-handedness and rush to implement changes that are too radical and too quick.
I think it’s worth a broad discussion, however, including a range of opinions.
Just as it’s a small part of the budget its a small part of our GDP.
It’s also 200 nurses.
Or 212 NSLC employyes… lol