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White-lipped Flaherty gives testimony on film tax credit

Censorship concerns are 'nonsense', minister says

HARRIED. Finance minister Jim Flaherty appeared before the Senate's banking committee Apr 30. Credit: (jimflahertymp.ca photo)

It was a tense day for senators hearing testimony on C-10, the bill that would allow Canada’s heritage minister to yank film tax credits from controversial films.

Calling Liberal Senator Yoine Goldstein “glib” and referring to his concerns as “nonsense”, finance minister Jim Flaherty heightened partisan tensions in the normally collegial upper house.

“I’m in a stewardship position with respect to how taxpayer money is spent” and must set priorities, Flaherty told the committee Apr 30. “One of those is not movies or videos depicting hate, extreme violence or pornography.”

Bill C-10 passed through the House of Commons last fall in one day, with unanimous support from all parties. But when news broke in February that the bill contained a clause that amounts to censorship, arts groups and opposition MPs were outraged.

It’s been before the Senate for five months.

Flaherty is the second Conservative cabinet minister to appear at the senate committee to defend C-10. Heritage minister Josée Verner presented Apr 2, claiming that it would close “a loophole” that theoretically would allow illegal material like hate speech and kiddie porn to qualify for the credit.

The Senate’s banking committee expressed concerns over that rationale. Under the proposed law, films can be rejected by the minister for any reason, since it doesn’t list the criteria she would use.

After the meeting, Flaherty indicated he considers amendments to C-10 to be a matter of confidence. Therefore, deleting the 14 word-clause could plunge the country into an election.

If the Senate amends the bill, it returns to the House for another vote. MPs from all three opposition parties appear eager to pass C-10 in an amended form.

Flaherty was clearly not a happy camper Apr 30, speaking through pursed lips and giving clipped answers to the senators’ questions.

He rebuked the Senate for dallying on a bill that had received all-party support in the house and simultaneously castigated his colleagues in the house.

“We who are elected have an obligation to understand the legislation that is before us,” he said.

The room was particularly frosty during an exchange between Flaherty and Goldstein.

“You’ll agree that porn has already been ineligible since 1973?” said Goldstein.

“Yes,” said Flaherty.

Goldstein then pointed out that hate speech is already illegal under the criminal code.

“Don’t be glib,” Flaherty said. “I’m a lawyer. That’s a fairly specific provision.”

Goldstein, who was a law professor for 25 years, pointed out that he too is a lawyer.

The Senate committee’s Conservative chair, David Angus, asked Goldstein, “Are you looking for any more answers?”

“I haven’t gotten any so far,” he said.

Angus asked the Senators to “keep their cool,” prompting Goldstein to grumble “I am. Someone else isn’t.”

Flaherty huffed visibly and tore the translator’s earbud out of his ear. Shortly after, he told the committee: “I have said that I would be here for an hour, and I have been here for more than an hour.”

Apr 30 was the final day for witness testimony. Senators will likely discuss amendments to C-10 on May 7.

The meeting began on a lighter note, with Angus and Goldstein joking about the length of the bill and its contentious clause.

“Some have read the bill,” Angus said, “Some are waiting for the movie. The question is, will this movie benefit from a tax credit?”