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  • The Art of Tax Bills

    Who would think that legislation dealing with the
    intricacies of the thrilling world of tax amendments would manage to draw, in a
    way I’ve never seen before, the ire of the Arts and Culture community?

    In my previous life, I was a piano player, and involved in
    other aspects of the entertainment business including, believe it or not, film
    production.  I love the entertainment business
    (okay, arts and culture), and I like to think that I understand it a bit.  Taxation matters, on the other hand, make my
    eyes glaze over.  When I was asked to
    temporarily sit on the Senate’s banking committee, I wasn’t expecting to be
    elbow deep in a murky pit of tax law with accusations of impending censorship.

    Bill C-10 is a 560 page monster piece of legislation.  It’s a tough read.  It deals with amendments to The Income Tax Act.  It is difficult and time consuming work to
    peel back the layers of this kind of legislation.  Our representatives in the House of Commons didn’t do that, so they
    didn’t notice that in Bill C-10, some of the amendments are not good
    ones.  So the House of Commons passed it, almost sight unseen, and sent it
    over to your friendly neighbourhood rubber-stampers, the Senate. 

    Some crotchety
    old sharp-eyed senators though, have noted that there are a couple of
    questionable tax measures (having to do with possible taxation of education
    trusts, university endowments, pension funds and the like) that need to be
    fixed.  The Government doesn’t want us to fix them in the Senate though. 
    They promise that they’ll “fix them later”.  Right.    

    It also
    turns out that deep in the bowels of the Bill, there’s a little amendment that
    would give the power to the Minister of Canadian Heritage – ANY Minister of
    Canadian Heritage – to decide, after a film or television show has been
    completed, that it’s not eligible for the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax
    Credit.

     

    That is de facto after-the-fact censorship, no
    matter how you cut it.  It concerns me,
    it concerns creative artists, film producers, bankers, workers in the Canadian
    film industry, and it should concern every Canadian.

    The
    Government of Canada officials and some witnesses who appeared before the Committee
    have stated that these amendments are necessary to make sure that “offensive” films
    are not financed with public dollars.  Well, I’m not sure that I want bureaucrats and
    a single politician deciding what’s “offensive”.  What’s offensive to you might not be
    offensive to me.  And there are all kinds
    of checks and balances in place to ensure that filmmakers don’t get financing
    of any kind – not just public funding – to make films that would offend against
    the Criminal Code.

    No such
    film has ever received public funding or tax credits.

    If the present
    amendment were passed, it would let the Minister, and the Minister alone,
    decide whether a film or TV show is contrary to the public interest
    Let me say that again – contrary to the public interest!!!

    If that’s
    not an alarm bell, I don’t know what is.

    When one
    person gets to decide what shows or movies should receive labour-based tax
    credits on the basis of the public interest, it’s time to hit the
    barricades.  Films or shows that are critical of, or that promote
    controversial subjects; that push the edges a bit; that raise uncomfortable
    questions; all of these might, in somebody’s view, be contrary to the public
    interest
    .

    It is the
    business of creative arts to push the edges.  To make us think about
    things.  And in some cases, to change the way we think.  Literature,
    drama, journalism, movies, TV shows have all, at one time or another, changed
    the way we think.  Archie Bunker and DaVinci changed the way we
    think.  And if the Arts don’t do that, it
    generally doesn’t get done.  Some people don’t think that pushing those
    edges is in the public interest.   

    The
    Government has said that if we in the Senate vote to amend the Bill, they’ll
    regard that as a confidence matter that could send us into an election.

     

    There is no
    constitutional basis on which the Government can say such a thing. The Senate
    is not a “confidence” House; the Government cannot be brought down by any
    action of the Senate.  So I’ll be voting
    to amend Bill C-10.  

     

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    The Progressives