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Praise but no raise

Canuck minister lauds biz, cuts funding

MONTREAL — Canadian Heritage Minister Liza Frulla came to Montreal on Tuesday to praise the country’s film and TV industry — and to order the main cultural agencies to cut budgets by 5%.

This mixed message didn’t go down well with producers and broadcasters at the luncheon speech. “It’s bizarre when you have (government) surpluses as far as the eye can see,” said Arnie Gelbart, prexy of Montreal production company Galafilm, whose production credits include the “Cirque du Soleil Fire Within” series. “The system is already seriously underfunded. They’re cutting money when they should be rethinking the whole film and TV system.” Mario Clement, general manager of programming at French-language pubcaster Radio-Canada Television, said a 5% cut would hit programming.

“Each time there are cuts there are major repercussions,” Clement said.

Frulla said the Heritage Ministry has asked pubcaster CBC, film-funding agency Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board, to suggest ways to make the savings, which she called “reallocations.”

“The ministry is sitting down with each agency to see if they can make the reduction,” Frulla said.

“But if they say it’s impossible … then I’ll fight for them. That’s why I say it’s a reallocation, not a cut. But I can’t make any guarantees.”

CBC receives C$927.4 million ($751 million) annually from the federal government, so a 5% cut would cost it around $37 million. CBC learned last week that its parliamentary allocation was also being reduced by $8 million this year.

The NFB receives $49 million annually from Ottawa, and its annual federal grant was permanently cut by $405,000 this year.

“Any cut is a big deal for us,” said Laurie Jones, director of communications at the NFB. “In 1996, we were cut by 30%, and we haven’t had subsequent increases.”

Telefilm Canada, which funds film and TV production, has a parliamentary appropriation of $105 million. The Canadian Television Fund, one of the main funders of TV production, has not been asked to reduce its budget.

Prime Minister Paul Martin’s government has committed to maintaining its $81 million grant to the fund for the next two years, but the new round of cuts could still affect it because it also receives $36 million from Telefilm each year.

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