Film and TV could bring millions to our economy, if we want them

Feature by Gregory Beatty

According to Stats Canada, two sectors of the economy added jobs in 2020.

One probably won’t surprise you: Finance, Insurance, Real Estate, Rental and Leasing.

The other might.

Information and Cultural Industries is comprised of Telecommunications, Broadcasting, Film and Publishing, and in 2020 it added 23,900 jobs for a total of 347,500 jobs across Canada.

To put that in context, employment in Forestry, Fishing, Mining, Quarrying, Oil and Gas in 2020 was 306,700.

At $4.1 billion and $2.2 billion respectively, Vancouver and Toronto are in a “league of their own” when it comes to film and TV production. But figures for second-tier cities such as Winnipeg ($270 million) and Calgary ($255 million) are impressive, too. And it gets better: with Covid-19 still raging in the United States, even more production is expected to move north of the border in 2021. Alberta, for instance, is projecting upwards of $400 million in production.

Now for some bad news. Thanks to the Saskatchewan Party government’s 2012 decision to cut the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit, our province is shut out from that economic windfall.

One of the arguments then-premier Brad Wall made to justify the decision, recalls longtime film industry member Layton Burton, was that with other jurisdictions following Saskatchewan’s lead and introducing a tax credit,* we could get stuck in a “race to the bottom” with the province continually forced to hike its credit to stay competitive.

“Here we are, almost a decade later, and incentives have not gone through the roof,” says Burton. “Instead, they’ve pretty much stayed where they are. Everyone is working on the same playing field.

“The government did a great disservice in putting that notion in people’s minds.”

Fueled by a surge in production from Netflix, Amazon, Apple and other streaming services, film and TV production in Canada has been booming since 2016. This isn’t some short-term, pandemic-inspired anomaly.

Across the country, producers are desperate for studio space and skilled crew. Saskatchewan, of course, has a world-class sound stage sitting empty in Regina.

And with the right incentives, our crew capacity could be built back up too, says Burton.

“We’ve done this before, and from humble beginnings we succeeded greatly — so we can do it again,” he says. “It’s like the domino principle. Once you knock over the first one, look out. We are going to be busy, busy, busy. That power belongs to Scott Moe and his cabinet, and we’re just waiting for that.”

* Under the Roy Romanow-led NDP government, Saskatchewan was one of the first jurisdictions in North America to introduce a film employment tax credit in 1998.