The Brilliance of Bill C-10

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.

Meanwhile, the Canada Family Action Coalition, a group “with a vision to see Judeo-Christian moral principles restored in Canada,” says in a recent release, in part:

[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***’ — 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.


Jane's picture
Jane on March 6, 2008 - 15:59 Permalink

I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for this post.

Rob L.'s picture
Rob L. on March 6, 2008 - 16:18 Permalink

There’s a Facebook group approaching 30,000 members who oppose this. That’s great, but “a pro-Nazi movie about ducks having sex with cows” is just as likely to face the censorship of the very non-right-wing Canadian Human Rights Commission, or any of it’s provincial wings, if past cases — or the cases currently faced by MacLean’s magazine or Ezra Levant for publishing cartoons — are any indication.

Ann Thurlow's picture
Ann Thurlow on March 6, 2008 - 21:24 Permalink

When the right wingers seem to be missing is that

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 7, 2008 - 02:06 Permalink

Somehow, and I’m only assuming here, I think the prospect of being able to outlaw productions they consider “contrary to public policy” through a conservative viewport (penises, swearing, communism, etc.) would emotionally trump any fears conservatives might have of the other side “getting them back” later on by removing the tax credits from, say, Jesus Christ biopics.

Besides, if you read the conservative rhetoric, it seems they consider any taxpayer-support art anathema.

I can only assume that Phase Two of the Secret Cultural Plan includes removing all arts funding, regardless of its public policy acceptableness.

Rob Lantz's picture
Rob Lantz on March 11, 2008 - 20:01 Permalink

I was skeptical of the “we didn’t read it” excuse from the beginning. Turns out “the genesis of that clause” was a Liberal guideline drafted in 2003 but never adopted. The original intention was to prevent the accreditation of a film about the Bernardo murders. Subsequent versions have included and removed the ministerial discretion to decide if a film is “contrary to public policy”, but as recently as last June the Liberals were calling the amendments “sensible”. It appears the Bloc was even on board. Even if you believe the bill is wrong, you can’t argue it was the genius of a “right wing” political conspiracy that tried to fly this under the radar of an incompetent and distracted opposition, if that is the suggestion here.