MONTREAL — The Canuck TV industry reacted with anger and dismay Thursday after finance minister John Manley scuttled government plans to restore the C$25 million ($17 million) cut from the Canadian Television Fund.
Actors union ACTRA said the TV business is paying the price for being caught in the middle of the battle for leadership between Manley and heritage minister Sheila Copps.
Both Manley and Copps are in a hotly contested race to succeed Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and scuttlebutt in Ottawa Thursday was that Manley was furious with Copps for leaking news of the decision to reverse funding cuts. Copps told the House of Commons Wednesday that she hoped to make an announcement about the TV fund later this week.
“Stop playing political football with Canadian culture,” said Stephen Waddell, ACTRA’s national director. “Canadian television is being destroyed by the Liberal government’s inaction. Copps and Manley must put their personal leadership ambitions aside and work together for Canadian culture.”
Manley will meet industry representatives next week but denied there had been a deal to replace the funding. He pointedly suggested Copps finds the missing cash in her department’s budget.
The government flip-flop is a major setback, according to Elizabeth McDonald, president of the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn.
“This is more about Ottawa politics than it is about the television business,” McDonald said. “This is really appalling. This is about people’s lives, people’s jobs. The industry has been really hit by SARS, by the cuts. So it’s quite disappointing. It doesn’t look good on anybody right now.”
The government cut its annual allocation to the Canadian Television Fund from $68 million to $51 million in Manley’s February budget, creating a crisis in the Great White North industry. On April 14, the fund announced it could only finance 73 productions out of the 202 that had applied, and many of the country’s top TV shows were turned down, including “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” “The Red Green Show” and “The Eleventh Hour.”
The controversy erupted again earlier this week when leadership hopeful Paul Martin said he would restore the Canadian Television Fund financing if elected prime minister. There was a demonstration by actors, producers and directors Monday night outside a fund-raising event in Toronto attended by Manley.