VANCOUVER – Film crews are sitting idle and studio space is near-empty in British Columbia as higher tax rebates lure productions to competitors in Ontario and Quebec, says an industry insider who’s lobbying for change.
Peter Leitch, president of North Shore Studios, said more people have gone without work in B.C.’s film and television industry in the last six months even as Premier Christy Clark has touted job creation in the western province.
“It’s pretty devastating in terms of the number of people who are unemployed right now,” Leitch said Wednesday.
“Part of it is seasonal, but certainly part of it is that our tax credits are not at the level playing field that they used to be historically.”
An online petition has garnered thousands of signatures on a petition to save the B.C. film industry, and that’s a sign of desperation from people without work, said Leitch, who is also chairman of the Motion Picture Production Association.
Even a temporary increase in tax credits would remedy the “devastating situation,” he said.
“In terms of studio space availability, I’ve never seen this much studio space available in Vancouver in my 25 years, and that’s a real barometer of employment,” he said.
Meanwhile, Montreal and Toronto are continuing to build stages as business grows.
“This will be our worst quarter I can remember,” Leitch said of his 23-year-old studio in the province that earned the moniker Hollywood North in its heyday during production of TV hits such as “Stargate,” “X-Files” and “Smallville.”
British Columbia offers the film industry a 33-per-cent tax rebate on labour costs, as compared to 25 per cent in credits on all costs involved in productions in Ontario and Quebec, Leitch said.
That represents only a 10 per cent savings in the end for made-in-B-C projects, he said.
“And they get bigger federal tax credits because of the all-spend (incentives),” he added.
Premier Christy Clark said the government shells out $285 million in tax credits to the film industry and more money won’t be available as the province aims to balance its budget.
“I’ve been talking to leading members of the film industry and I understand the pressure, the race to the bottom we’ve seen in economies that are really struggling,” she said.
“But in British Columbia, we’re also going to balance our budget. We don’t have a bottomless pit of decisions to be able to make.”
Leitch said customers from California, for example, are more likely to do business in B.C. because of the similar time zone and proximity, but the bigger bang-for-the buck in the eastern provinces is a huge draw.
The B.C. industry has invested more than $1 billion in infrastructure and benefited the province’s economy in spin-off business from production crews.
British Columbia’s return to the provincial sales tax on April 1 will mean another blow because the seven per cent PST won’t be returned to the industry. As well, the high Canadian dollar is also causing pain, Leitch said.
Karen Thorn-Stone of the Ontario Media Development Corp., said the change to the so-called all-spend tax credits from labour-only credits occurred in 2009 in that province.
“In terms of production statistics, 2011 was the best year we’ve had ever — almost $1.3 billion in production activity,” she said, adding 70 per cent of that comes from domestic projects.
“I’m confident in saying that here in Ontario there is strong government support, strong industry support, and we see a positive future ahead for all of our creative industries.”
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Leitch spoke Thursday.