McNeil Government’s Culture Action Plan – All Talk, No Action

March 16, 2017 at 2:30 am

The McNeil government’s Culture Action Plan is all talk and no action, lacking specific new budgetary provisions, real programs, and success measurement benchmarks and matrices.

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.

mcneil dances
Dancing isn’t an action plan.

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.

Author: Paul Kimball

Hi folks,

I’ve lived my entire life in Nova Scotia, with the exception of a year spent studying abroad in Scotland when I was an undergraduate. I was born at the Grace Maternity Hospital in 1967, and grew up in Dartmouth. I graduated from Acadia University with an Honours degree in History and Political Science in 1989, and from Dalhousie University with a law degree in 1992.

For the next several years I was involved in the burgeoning Halifax music scene at the height of the Halifax Pop Explosion as a member of the bands Tall Poppies and Julia’s Rain. In 1997, I transitioned to the film and television industry, first as a consultant for Salter Street Films, where I worked on the creation of the Independent Film Channel, and then as the Program Administrator for the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, where I managed the Provincial government’s film funding programs, including equity investment and the film tax credit.

In 1999 I left the civil service and entered the private sector as a producer, writer, and director. My work since then has included television series and documentaries for a number of networks both here in Canada and internationally, as well as three feature films, including the award-winning thriller Exit Thread, which was released in 2016. 

I’ve been involved in industry-related public policy organizations for years, including terms as president of the Nova Scotia Film and Television Producers’ Association and a member of the Province of Nova Scotia’s Film Advisory Committee. I’ve done my best to give something back to the community as well by mentoring young filmmakers, visiting high schools over the years to talk about a career in the film industry, and taking high school film students on board as interns on various productions.

I have also been an instructor and basketball coach for the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, and was the founder of the Festival of Hope, a music benefit series that raised money and awareness about AIDS. I was actively involved in student politics, serving as the Chairperson of the Acadia Students’ Union, as well as the Deputy Chairperson of the Students Union of Nova Scotia. I also served a term as one of two student representatives on Acadia’s Board of Governors. 

I’m an avid photographer and naturalist, and believe that moving towards a green economy is not only vital to ensuring a sustainable future, but also a tremendous opportunity for economic growth. I spend a lot of my spare time wandering about the wonderful trail systems located within Clayton Park West. 

I’m a lover of poetry (particularly the War Poets and the Beats), Shakespeare, vanilla milkshakes, conversations about the nature of space and time, history, all types of music, baseball, Bergman films, and Monty Python.

Most important, I have a family and group of close friends who keep me grounded and happy, and who appreciate my quirky and self-deprecating sense of humour. 

That’s my story. I look forward to meeting you and hearing yours!