Canada's Original Think Tank

The Art of Tax Bills

The Art of Tax Bills

The Art of Tax Bills

The Art of Tax Bills


Published on 23 May 2008
Blog by Senator Tommy Banks (retired)

Who would think that legislation dealing with the
intricacies of the thrilling world of tax amendments would manage to draw, in a
way I’ve never seen before, the ire of the Arts and Culture community?

In my previous life, I was a piano player, and involved in
other aspects of the entertainment business including, believe it or not, film
production.  I love the entertainment business
(okay, arts and culture), and I like to think that I understand it a bit.  Taxation matters, on the other hand, make my
eyes glaze over.  When I was asked to
temporarily sit on the Senate’s banking committee, I wasn’t expecting to be
elbow deep in a murky pit of tax law with accusations of impending censorship.

Bill C-10 is a 560 page monster piece of legislation.  It’s a tough read.  It deals with amendments to The Income Tax Act.  It is difficult and time consuming work to
peel back the layers of this kind of legislation.  Our representatives in the House of Commons didn’t do that, so they
didn’t notice that in Bill C-10, some of the amendments are not good
ones.  So the House of Commons passed it, almost sight unseen, and sent it
over to your friendly neighbourhood rubber-stampers, the Senate. 

Some crotchety
old sharp-eyed senators though, have noted that there are a couple of
questionable tax measures (having to do with possible taxation of education
trusts, university endowments, pension funds and the like) that need to be
fixed.  The Government doesn’t want us to fix them in the Senate though. 
They promise that they’ll “fix them later”.  Right.    

It also
turns out that deep in the bowels of the Bill, there’s a little amendment that
would give the power to the Minister of Canadian Heritage – ANY Minister of
Canadian Heritage – to decide, after a film or television show has been
completed, that it’s not eligible for the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax
Credit.

 

That is de facto after-the-fact censorship, no
matter how you cut it.  It concerns me,
it concerns creative artists, film producers, bankers, workers in the Canadian
film industry, and it should concern every Canadian.

The
Government of Canada officials and some witnesses who appeared before the Committee
have stated that these amendments are necessary to make sure that “offensive” films
are not financed with public dollars.  Well, I’m not sure that I want bureaucrats and
a single politician deciding what’s “offensive”.  What’s offensive to you might not be
offensive to me.  And there are all kinds
of checks and balances in place to ensure that filmmakers don’t get financing
of any kind – not just public funding – to make films that would offend against
the Criminal Code.

No such
film has ever received public funding or tax credits.

If the present
amendment were passed, it would let the Minister, and the Minister alone,
decide whether a film or TV show is contrary to the public interest
Let me say that again – contrary to the public interest!!!

If that’s
not an alarm bell, I don’t know what is.

When one
person gets to decide what shows or movies should receive labour-based tax
credits on the basis of the public interest, it’s time to hit the
barricades.  Films or shows that are critical of, or that promote
controversial subjects; that push the edges a bit; that raise uncomfortable
questions; all of these might, in somebody’s view, be contrary to the public
interest
.

It is the
business of creative arts to push the edges.  To make us think about
things.  And in some cases, to change the way we think.  Literature,
drama, journalism, movies, TV shows have all, at one time or another, changed
the way we think.  Archie Bunker and DaVinci changed the way we
think.  And if the Arts don’t do that, it
generally doesn’t get done.  Some people don’t think that pushing those
edges is in the public interest.   

The
Government has said that if we in the Senate vote to amend the Bill, they’ll
regard that as a confidence matter that could send us into an election.

 

There is no
constitutional basis on which the Government can say such a thing. The Senate
is not a “confidence” House; the Government cannot be brought down by any
action of the Senate.  So I’ll be voting
to amend Bill C-10.