Stephen McNeil and Minister of Communities, Culture & Heritage Tony Ince held a big event last month to announce their new Culture Action Plan. McNeil danced (literally, and then figuratively when he spoke), and Ince talked about his commitment to culture, a speech that stood in stark contrast to the silence that he maintained when McNeil and Diana Whalen blew up the Nova Scotia film and television industry in April 2015. The cultural bureaucrats in the private sector predictably lined up and said it was all a wonderful thing, because they never want to offend or call into question the government that provides them with much of their operating funds, and everyone went home happy.
Well, here’s the thing. We’ve heard this all before from the McNeil government. Freeman, Ivany, Broten… reports have come with great fanfare and commitment to change, and then they get circular filed. Anyone who would trust the McNeil government to follow through on any of the cultural “action plan” almost deserves the inevitable disappointment that we have seen with these reports so many times before.
And in one of the great ironies of the new Culture Action Plan, the McNeil government talks a great deal about how important the Mi’kmaq culture is to Nova Scotia.
Of course it is.
But one has to compare words with action when the commitment to Mi’kmaq culture comes from the same government that referred to the Sipekne’katik band as a “conquered people” last year when it suited their purposes to do so in a high-profile court case (and then took over a month to take action and withdraw the offensive legal brief when they were called out on it).
Oh, sure, it sounds good, just like all of these reports do – bureaucrats and their enablers have it down to a science when it comes to writing these things. But what does it really all mean? The “value of culture” stuff is easy to write, probably because it’s been written many times before. I’ve seen this language for twenty years, both during my time in government in the late 1990s and in the years since. There’s an art to it, ironically, but it doesn’t mean anything. They’re just words, and words are a dime a dozen, especially with the McNeil government.
Where are the actual plans? You know, things like specific new budgetary provisions, or real programs, or success measurement benchmarks and matrices. Those kinds of things, which are what you’ll find in an actual plan, are missing.
Imagine Dwight Eisenhower coming up with a 30+ page memo in 1944 for why invading Western Europe would be a good thing without providing any indication of how he was going to pull it off. That’s what the McNeil government has just done with culture.
By way of contrast, here’s what an actual action plan looks like, using the film and television industry as an example.
- Restore the film tax credit at a base rate of 30%;
- Create a film agency along the lines of the old Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation to administer the tax credit and other funding programs, with a total staff of no more than five – CEO, Director of Programs, Director of Finance, Programs Assistant, Office Administrator;
- Do what they do in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia and bypass the Department of Finance entirely when it comes to the tax credit Part Bs, and after the review by the film agency hand it off directly to the Canada Revenue Agency;
- Create a competitive $2 million equity investment fund to be administered by the new NSFDC, open only to Nova Scotia producers. Limit the size of any single investment to $150,000;
- Create a competitive $350,000 development fund to be administered by the new NSFDC, open only to Nova Scotia producers. Limit the amount of money available to any single project to $20,000;
- Create a $250,000 travel assistance and marketing fund to be administered by the new NSFDC;
- Incentivize grossly underrepresented groups such as women and minorities within the Nova Scotia film and television industry with bonuses to the base tax credit rate and competitive advantages in the ranking for funding applications; and
- Because production is more expensive in rural areas, provide a regional bonus to the tax credit for production outside of HRM in order to make sure that all areas of Nova Scotia can reap the benefits of the industry.
There you go. An actual plan for the film and television industry. You can agree or disagree with it, but at least you know where I’m coming from. We have something to discuss.
Better yet, I wrote it out on a napkin in less than ten minutes. No high-priced consultants needed.
But this isn’t the kind of action the McNeil government is interested in, so don’t expect anything truly significant from them anytime soon (although we’ll probably see some token commitments in the upcoming budget so that they can say they really care on the campaign trail). After all, they have an election to win, and platitudes are easier to stick in a platform than concrete, detailed proposals.
Meanwhile, in what I’m sure was completely unrelated news, the government arbitrarily canceled the Auditor General’s appearance at the Public Accounts committee that was scheduled on the same day. As Stephen McNeil was dancing up a storm with Tony Ince, the Auditor General revealed that the government has failed to meet its commitment to meeting the national average for hip and knee replacement wait times.
As my friend and colleague Tim Houston said, “I think it’s hard to get your head around the fact that three years into a new health authority, the government won’t even commit to making a commitment to how long people should have to wait.”
It’s magic, folks. Watch the left hand so you don’t see what the right hand is up to.
The McNeil government has gotten very good at it. Their “Culture Action Plan” is nothing more than the latest example.
To quote The Who – don’t get fooled again.