Bill C-10, with the obscure-sounding title “An Act to amend the Income Tax Act, including amendments in relation to foreign investment entities and non-resident trusts, and to provide for the bijural expression of the provisions of that Act” has my television-making friends all atwitter. The offending matter is found in a proposed amendment to Section 125.4(1) and concerns the definition of what a “Canadian film or video production certificate” is.
The current version of the Income Tax Act says simply:
“Canadian film or video production certificate” means a certificate issued in respect of a production by the Minister of Canadian Heritage(a) certifying that the production is a Canadian film or video production, and(b) estimating amounts relevant for the purpose of determining the amount deemed under subsection 125.4(3) to have been paid in respect of the production.
The amended version, which has already passed the House and is to be considered by the Senate, contains several additional provisions, including this caveat:
(ii) public financial support of the production would not be contrary to public policy
The film and television making community suggests that this amounts to “essentially government censorship of the arts” and has mounted a campaign to have the bill overturned.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage disagrees, saying the intent of the amendment is to:
…make sure that we will take fiscal measure to make sure that the Canadian taxpayers’ money won’t fund extreme violence, child pornography or something like that.
[T]he argument that filmmakers and some media industry have a Charter Right to be funded and given tax breaks exposes years of liberal entitlement mentality…. Let them argue this one before the public, ask the taxpayer in the next election, if they want to spend 1.5 million dollars for a film called ‘Young People F***..ing’ — a pornographic film that even some Toronto Film Festival people thought questionable. Cronenberg and his friends will lose that argument and the one about their Charter right to be funded.”
Setting aside any debate about whether this is good public policy or not, it strikes me as a brilliant tactical move by the Government.
By burying the provision deep within a long bill, the Government is able to suggest in public both that it’s simply a well-intentioned administrative change, and also that, as it passed through the House without notice, it’s the fault of the opposition for not reading the bill before voting for it.
At the same time, they can also claim credit for the provision with their socially conservative base. And they can do this with the conservative code-word “contrary to public policy,” which their brethren will understand to clearly mean “no bestiality movies starring Rick Mercer.”
There’s almost no political downside, as the artistic constituency that’s up in arms is never going to vote Conservative, and even any hard-right Libertarian faction in the party that might otherwise oppose “Government control of the arts” is going to be against taxpayer-supported arts anyway.
On the opposition side, in addition to the “wait, we passed this without reading it?” problem, there’s also the challenge of appearing to be against something that is designed, says the Government, only to protect against “excessive violence or any heinous attacks against targeted groups in society.” For every artistic freedom argument the opposition raises, the Government can simply counter with any manner of fictional constructs — “so, the Honourable Member would support public financing of a pro-Nazi movie about ducks having sex with cows?”
Those of us who consider ourselves on the opposite side of the fence from the socially conservative aspects of the current Government treat these elements as though they are thick-skulled dullards at our peril: these people obviously know a thing or two about how to forward a their agenda without appearing to.
We may think that they’re going to win their revolution by introducing bills like “An Act to Curtail Swearing” or “A Bill to Limit Genital Contact between the Unmarried,” when, in fact, they’re smart enough to achieve their aims with considerably more finesse.