NS Film Credit Info
Finance Department stonewalling

I've tried to get basic, summary data from previous years for the Film Tax Credit from the Department of Finance. I also requested the background briefing document handed out to the press on budget day, which was the source of many of the government figures in subsequent news stories, but did not seem to be availble. Both requests have basically been ignored by the department. Below is the relevant email correspondence - I've redacted the names of the initial contact for both requests, as they merely forwared to an appropriate person, and were nothing but friendly and helpful.

The data request was forwarded to Lilani Kumaranayake, Executive Director of Fiscal Policy, Economics and Budgetary Planning.
The press document request was forwarded to Darcy MacRae, the Communications Advisor.
After hearing nothing back on either request, I composed a letter expressing my dissatisfaction to the Deputy Minister, George McLellan
I made one more attempt to communicate with the department, as I had requested time with the Law Amendment Committee.

I made a separate request for clarification from Byron Rafuse, Associate Deputy Minister, of some figures he had brought up at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. He was courteous enough to reply, and somewhat helpfully, but given the lack of data from other requests, to limited effect.

My basic position is that the refusal to supply the public with a handout already given to the press is nothing but egregious. The unwillingness to make available to the public basic data from a program involving tens of millions of dollars of expenditures, which is currently a matter of great public debate, is a fundamental disservice to the concept of open, transparent government, and the involvement of an informed citizenry in public affairs.

Below is my correspondence with the department on these requests, along with the replies, such as they are.

Request for data

Date: Thursday, April 16, 2015 at 1:21 PM
I’m trying to find summary data from the Film Tax Credit program. Based on the tax credit application forms I found online, I’m just looking for simple annual aggregate totals for the key figures: A) Total Production Dollars spent in Nova Scotia B) Total Eligible Salaries C) Total Financing D) Total value of tax credit expenditure E) Average percentage of labour claimed (50-65%) F) Total number of projects Ideally, I’d like to get the figures starting from fiscal year 2010-11 onwards. I couldn’t seem to find any reporting for most of this on the Film & Creative Nova Scotia site, or in the various Public Accounts or budgeting documents I wandered through. Could you please route this request to the appropriate person or section?

I later called (I believe Monday April 20) to confirm receipt. I was told the request had been passed on to Lilani Kumaranayake, and eventually emailed her on Wednesday:

To: Lilani Kumaranayake
Date: Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 11:04 AM
[REDACTED] mentioned when I called the other day that she had forwarded this to you. I just wanted to touch base and follow up on this request.

I never received a reply to this request.

Request for press briefing handout

Date: Monday, April 20, 2015 at 12:36 PM
I’m trying to track down what I believe was a briefing handout for the press for the recent budget address? Specifically, sections dealing with the film tax credit. I think it would be the source for the numbers “$66.8 million” of production and “$39.4 million” of wages, and some sort of description of the government’s reasoning of the incremental tax revenue generated from the production activity. These have turned up in a couple of news stories, but given the usual media fuzzifying I’ld like to know how it actually reads. A reporter mentioned a paper handout at the budget briefing which I think is where they came from, but nothing like this seems to be included in the Budget Documents package on your website, even in the Media Presentation slides, so I assume it was something separate. Would it be possible to identify this and send me a copy in electronic form?

On Wednesday, I called and was told the request had been passed on to Darcy MacRae, and eventually emailed him to follow up:

To: Darcy MacRae
Date: Wednesday, April 22, 2015 at 9:22 AM
When I called this morning, [REDACTED] mentioned she had passed this along to you the other day. Hopefully you can just send me whatever computer document was used to print the press briefing sheet. Feel free to contact me at any time.

I never received a reply to this request.

Letter of dissatisfaction

Having received no reply to either of my two requests, originally dating back to April 16, I sent a letter of complaint to the Deputy Minister of Finance, copyin Mr. Rafuse and the executive assistant in the Minister's office, as well as the two principals involved in my requests:

To: George McLellan
CC: Byron Rafuse, Denise Dickson
BCC: Lilani Kumaranayake, Darcy MacRae
Date: Friday, April 24, 2015 at 8:18 AM
Re: Dissatisfaction with department on recent request for information
When the planned changes to the film tax credit were first announced, with various numbers floating around from the various parties and the media, I became interested in trying to get a clearer understanding of the basic data involved, but had difficulty in finding this information. As Film and Creative was just shutting down, on April I emailed a request to [REDACTED] (the admin assistant listed for the most likely-sounding area of the department), asking that it be forwarded to an appropriate person. I was looking for totals from the film tax credit program for 2010-11 forward for: A) Total Production Dollars spent in Nova Scotia B) Total Eligible Salaries C) Total Financing D) Total value of tax credit expenditure E) Average percentage of labour claimed (50-65%) F) Total number of projects It would be deeply surprising if these were not easily at hand within the government; indeed they would ideally have been part of the Film & Creative annual report on the program. Checking later with Ms. Drew she indicated the request had been forwarded to Lilani Kumaranayake, but despite an email I sent to Ms. Kumaranayake on April 22, I have had no acknowledgement or reply at all. I also made a simple request for copy of what I believe was a press briefing document from the budget announcement (but not included in the budget documentation on the Finance site). I believe it was the source of the wage and total spending numbers for the 2013-14 film tax credit in various press stories, and had some discussion of the department’s view of tax revenue generated from the credit. I emailed Molly Smith in Communications on April 20; when I checked on April 22 she indicated the request was forwarded to Darcy MacRae, but again I have had no acknowledgement at all. In a previous lifetime I was part of a public service myself, and my intent is not to complain about individual employees (I’ve separately copied this to all involved as a courtesy). I also realize that these are what the Chinese would refer to as “interesting” times for this particular subject. But providing clear, relevant information to the public so they can come to informed opinions on matters of current interest should obviously be a requirement of government, and I can’t be blamed for feeling the department has failed in this instance. I would request that someone from the department get in touch by the end of Friday (April 24) with at least some sort of acknowledgement or update on this.

I was copied on a reply from Ms. Kumaranayake to Mr. McLellan. However, I'm still not sure if I was supposed to be included or was accidentally copied on an internal reply.

From: Lilani Kumaranayake
To: George McLellan, David Oberst
CC: Byron Rafuse
Date: Friday, April 24, 2015 at 8:34 AM
Hi George, I understand from [REDACTED-original admin contact] that this has been put in our correspondence reply process where we have a standard 10-day response. We are also using this approach for the 27 other requests. Please advise if you want to treat this differently. [REDACTED - original admin contact] also acknowledged receipt on my behalf. thanks Lilani
To: George McLellan
CC: Byron Rafuse, Denise Dickson
BCC: Lilani Kumaranayake, Darcy MacRae
Date: Friday, April 24, 2015 at 9:20 AM
[REDACTED-original admin contact] mentioned it had been forwarded, but I was unaware of any 10-day response period. I know it is probably a busy time, and I don’t know what the other requests involve, but this one should in theory just have some underling, er, valued colleague :) getting a few numbers from some sort of basic internal summaries of the tax credit program? Certainly (B) total salaries relates directly into the tax credit calculation, and (A) and (C) are asked directly on the application forms and I’d assume are summarized internally as a matter of course. I’m assuming the $39.4 and $66.8 numbers in media stories are (B) and (A) for 2013-14 and were provided by the government, but since I can’t get the press handout they presumably came from I can’t be sure. All I’m trying to is get that same information for previous fiscal years. In theory the cost of the tax credit (D) is in the Public Accounts supp volume. But it only seems to have started reporting separately in 2012/13 (some sort of accounting changes then, I think I read). Also, the figure for 2013-14 is $15,451,620, but that is too low for $39.4 million in wages at a minimum 50% rebate, so I don’t know if the number is for a different year, the media muddled something, or what, again since I’ve been unable to obtain the document that was distributed to the press. (As an aside, it would be nice if press materials like this were posted online so we would not be at the mercy of the somewhat fuzzy whims of the inky wretches of the fourth estate!) I found a recent Public Accounts committee video where Mr. Rafuse had provided some years of the tax credit cost (D) to them. Unfortunately, there was some confusion at the time, and even in the revised Hansard the numbers seem to be off by a year, or something. I had sent him request for clarification yesterday. In short, it has been incredibly frustrating trying to find very basic and key numbers which I would have hoped would have been available as a matter of course from annual reports. And this is even before trying to make sense of industry numbers… :) If it would be possible to provide these basic figures in a more timely fashion, I would appreciate it, and they would be of use to many others of the public as well.

No response was ever received.

Notice of LAC appearance

I made one more attempt to communicate with the department, as I have requested time with the Law Amendments Committee

To: George McLellan
CC: Byron Rafuse, Lilani Kumaranayake, Darcy MacRae
Date: Monday, May 4, 2015 at 1:00 PM
Re: Film Tax Credit info
Further to my previous correspondence with the Department, I’ve requested a slot at the Law Amendments Committee hearing on the relevant bill (108-FMA) as part of my followup on this. My intention is to focus not so much on the on the specifics of the government’s proposal, but the need for information to be available to the public if they are to be able to evaluate an issue of current concern, such as this. As such, my (highly unsatisfactory) experience with the Department of Finance will be a major focus. As I prepare, my starting points (put bluntly) would include: not making a press handout available to the public on request is simply unacceptable Not having had some sort of annual reporting of basic summary data from the FTC program, perhaps in the F&C annual report, is a serious flaw The department being unwilling to even engage in discussion, much less actual provision, of such reasonably expectable summary data, thwarts the goals of transparency and citizen involvement on this issue. The department’s presentation and labelling of the two or three data points from this sort of summary information that were included in the press background briefing could fairly be described as “sloppy”, at the least. The subsequent analysis could, somewhat harshly, be termed “shoddy”, even without speculating on any external pressures that may have shaped its creation. I’d be happy (indeed eager) to discuss any of this, but failing that, I can only proceed on the basis of my actual experience so far.

Request for Public Accounts clarification

In a somewhat separate request, I looked for clarification on some figures given to the Public Accounts Committee.

To: Byron Rafuse
Date: Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 1:28 PM
I have a couple of requests to the department for information on the Film Tax credit which I’ve had no acknowledgement on, and for which I guess I’ll have to take further steps. But I was wondering if I could at least get a simple clarification on something you said at the Public Accounts committee meeting on April 15, listing the annual cost of the film tax credit for 4 recent years. There was some confusion on the video (some labelling problem with your papers), but the Hansard cleaned it up as ""2013, it’s $27 million; 2012 is $16 million; 2011 is $22 million; 2010 is $15.5 million.” Those numbers don’t quite line up with the totals I found in the published supplement volumes for the provincial accounts and the Assumptions document from the recent budget ($23.5 for 2014-15, then $15.5 and $24.2 prior). Is it possible that your figures were intended to be fiscal 2014-15 and the 3 previous years? That would match up much better, although $27 million for 2014-15 would be higher than the published $23.543 million forecast in the “Assumptions” document. Or, these might be figures for calendar, not fiscal, years, although that would seem unlikely. If you can provide a quick clarification on this, I would appreciate it.

Somewhat surprisingly, I received a response.

From: Byron Rafuse
Date: Friday, April 24, 2015 at 1:18 PM
The quick clarification is not calendar vs. fiscal years, as you assumed. The amounts in the Assumptions document and the supplement volume of the Public Accounts reflect the impact to the provincial financial statements in any given fiscal year, in this case the forgone revenue associated with the FITC. What I using at the Public Accounts ctm. was the value of the FITC for the production costs of a given year. As you know there is lag between the time when production costs occur, and when a tax credit is provided, often this is in a separate fiscal year. For example production costs that occurred 11/12 could result in FITC amounts impacting the Province’s Statements in 11/12, 12/13 and maybe even 13/14. That is an unfortunate byproduct of using the tax system for an incentive program. It also can be confusing I know. I have not yet had chance to read Hansard but hopefully they reflect the paper I had.
To: Byron Rafuse
Date: Friday, April 24, 2015 at 2:00 PM
The wording in my first email was taken from Hansard, and I believe reflects the last part, after some initial confusion lining up dates and amounts. From my memory of the video, you were exclusively using for example the phrase “2013”. Would this mean fiscal 2012-13, or fiscal 2013-14? There wasn’t any context to be certain. Assuming the latter, your “$27 million for 2013” would be the amount of FITC generated by eligible production wages incurred during fiscal 2013-14, although as you say the forms reporting this may show up at various points during 2013 or later. The $27 million would likely be paid out from funds of multiple fiscal years, while the dollars paid out and reported in any particular fiscal year will include payment for labour of a mixture of productions for that and prior years. I think that would be what your reply was describing? It makes sense, explains why the two sets of numbers aren’t comparable, and increases my hopes that I can get the basic data from the last few fiscal years that I’ve requested. Incidentally, I’m a programmer, and fairly new to the film industry as such (I’m working for a local animation studio). But for many years I was the programmer at the NWT Bureau of Statistics, and oddly enough wrote the computer code for our input-output model, so I have some previous experience in being confused by economists… :) Thanks again for the reply,