B.C. eyes Ontario approach to creative industries

Grant programs designed to help digital media, film, TV sectors are stimulating eastern province’s economy and helping create jobs

A growing push from B.C.’s creative industries for more support has raised the question of whether the province is failing to capitalize on the sector’s economic potential and should be following Ontario’s lead.

“The creative industries are a $4 billion industry [in B.C.], and we should be treated like other really important sectors,” said Margaret Reynolds, executive director of the Association of Book Publishers of BC.

In late April, Reynolds and other B.C. creative industry leaders released a report calling for a reinvented and co-ordinated approach to B.C.’s creative industries, which include book and magazine publishing, digital media, film and television production and music and sound recording.

The group wants the government to look at whether B.C. would benefit from creating a B.C. equivalent to the Ontario Media Development Corp.(OMDC), a government organization that describes itself as “the central catalyst for the province’s cultural media cluster.”

The organization:

•administers tax credits and grant programs;

•helps promote and market the industries; and

•hosts events and matchmaking opportunities to foster cross-industry partnerships, such as matching book publishers and film producers.

Reynolds said that in contrast, B.C.’s creative industries operate in silos, have virtually no access to grants or other types of capital and lack marketing capacity.

While it’s unclear what new costs an OMDC model could involve for B.C., OMDC president and CEO Karen Thorne-Stone said the organization annually allocates approximately $30 million in grants, which are invested into specific projects selected by jury.

What economic return does it see for its investment?

Thorne-Stone said $8 million invested since the launch of OMDC’s magazine fund has generated $24 million in revenue for the companies involved and 170 new, permanent jobs.

She added that $22 million invested through the OMDC’s film fund has allowed Ontario producers to make films with total budgets of more than $500 million.

“The return on investment is pretty good,” she said.

Thorne-Stone said the primary thrust of the OMDC is squarely on economic development.

“In Ontario, the creative industries generate $12.2 billion worth of GDP for this province every year – that’s bigger than mining, it’s bigger than agriculture, it’s bigger than energy,” she said.

“It’s not about art for the sake of art; these [industries] are contributing to quality of life, but they’re also contributing in very real ways to economic activity and to high-quality jobs.”

Ida Chong, B.C. minister of community, sport and cultural development, told Business in Vancouver that her ministry is assessing whether a model like the OMDC could benefit the province.

But she said the evidence isn’t in yet.

“I don’t have the stats yet on what the [economic] return is, and are those returns truly measurable? Are they returns that are a boost in the GDP, are those the returns that are there because [Ontario has] done other things; has Ontario helped more with the educational side, provided more classrooms and more spaces for people and that’s why it’s grown? So what is it that’s making it work?”

Would Chong consider further investments in B.C.’s creative industries?

“It may end up that we can increase the pot a little bit, but not at the risk of damaging our fiscal plan.”

Reynolds said B.C.’s creative industries aren’t advocating the OMDC as an absolute model for B.C.

“It may not be appropriate for B.C.,” she said. “But we would like to begin the conversation around how that would work.” •

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