Friday, May 13, 2005

Manitoba NDP's Foray Into Film a Flop

The following article was written and e-mailed to The Blue Maple Leaf by Jeff Niederhoffer. Jeff is a Winnipeg lawyer and political activist. Here is what he had to say:

Perhaps the least noticed - because the least reported - story of the past month is that the Manitoba provincial government has gone into the movie business.

You heard right. As of a few weeks ago, "Today's NDP" took a step closer to looking like yesterday's Dominican Republic when the Province of Manitoba announced it would bail out and assume ownership of a money-losing film studio.

The red-ink-drenched studio in question is Prairie Production Centre. The Manitoba NDP government initially claimed that the cost of the bailout/buyout was around $1.78 million, but then admitted that, because the province had also agreed to forgive certain loans it made to the studio, the real cost to taxpayers was actually over $3 million.
Culture Minister Eric Robinson justifies the provincialization of Prairie Production Centre by arguing that the studio is "very valuable" and that, were the province not to inject public funds into the studio, "Opportunities would be lost."

Uh huh.

While Carole Vivier, CEO of Manitoba Film and Sound, is on record as being understandably "thrilled" at the NDP government's spending plans, Manitobans may well wonder why their hard-earned tax dollars are being funneled into a movie studio that has a track record of failure. Adrienne Batra, director of the Manitoba Taxpayer's Federation, rightly blasts the bailout of Prairie Production Centre as corporate welfare. As Batra has said: "The fact the industry wasn't viable on its own doesn't mean tax dollars should be spent bailing them out." Certainly, the onus should be on Eric Robinson and Today's NDP to demonstrate to taxpayers what "opportunities" will accrue to the province by keeping this insolvent film studio in business. Having Prairie Production Centre absorbed into the provincial bureaucracy will do nothing to improve the studio's profitability or marketability. On the contrary, the security offered by public subsidy will take away any incentive for the studio to innovate or to develop a new business plan. The effect of this government bailout will only be to insulate the studio from commercial reality - and to give it a license to keep on losing money indefinitely.

Another effect of using taxpayers' money to bail out Prairie Production Centre will be to divert money and resources away from legitimate priorities such as health care and education. Tory MLA Jack Reimer, who acts as the Opposition watchdog on culture-funding issues, condemns this bailout as "frivolous" and argues that the money "could be well-spent in other areas." Eric Robinson and the provincial NDP government would do well to heed Reimer's advice. There is only so much money to go around in the budget. Even taking into account the tolerant attitude of this government toward debt, the $3 million being splashed on Prairie Production Centre necessarily means that, at some point, there will be $3 million less to spend on other things. The decision by the NDP government to provide $3 million to prop up this film studio is effectively a decision not to use that money to reduce emergency-room waiting times, or to cut Pharmacare premiums, or to hire more Crown prosecutors.

In the end, that is what this issue boils down to. The money a government spends, like the money a household or business spends, reflects its priorities. It is difficult to believe that the silent majority of Manitobans would agree with Eric Robinson (and Premier Doer) that there is no better use for $3 million of taxpayers' money than to buy a money-losing film studio. Is the continued existence of Prairie Production Centre really so pressing to Manitobans? Would the average Manitoban miss it if it were to close its doors? It is doubtful that the average Manitoban would even have heard of Prairie Production Centre had not the provincial government suddenly decided the studio had to be saved from itself. While artists and film-industry types in Winnipeg have undeniable cause to celebrate the Doer government's plans, and likely will benefit enormously from them, most taxpayers will feel nothing but resentment at the fact that part of their paycheques will now be going to support a movie studio they could not care less about.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home