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Actors say Ont. Liberal govt. broke promise

TORONTO (CP) _ Some well-known Canadian actors said Thursday that Ontario’s Liberal government broke a campaign promise to help artists qualify for the same labour protections and training programs as other workers.

Wendy Crewson, Sonja Smits and Tonya Lee Williams joined ACTRA Toronto President Karl Pruner at a news conference at the Ontario legislature to complain about so-called Status of the Artist legislation.

The actors said the Liberals promised a bill that would also extend labour protections to child actors and give artists tax breaks and housing supports.

But instead, the government quietly buried legislation in last month’s provincial budget that gives artists nothing but a weekend celebration in June.

"Let me tell you I felt angry," said Crewson, known for her roles in the television programs ’24’ and ‘ReGenesis.’

"Angry that I and all artists in this province had been duped. Angry that a government in haste to check off something on its to-do list felt that it could be done with such a vacuous piece of legislation."

Smits, the former star of popular Canadian programs ‘Street Legal’ and ‘Traders,’ said the Liberals failed to follow through on any of the key recommendations from the actors’ union.

"This act as presented offers nothing more than platitudes," said Smits.

"It does absolutely nothing to relieve the challenges that are faced by artists, and it does not fulfill the government’s commitment to artists."

Williams, who stars as Dr. Olivia Winters on the popular American soap opera ‘The Young and the Restless,’ said artists can take advantage of the fact this is an election year in Ontario to press the Liberals for changes to the bill.

"Over the years, a lot of those in the Canadian political arena have not taken seriously the voting power of the artists," said Williams.

"I think they do in the U.S. I think they fear it in the U.S."

Smits said she hoped the Liberals could be embarrassed into making improvements to the bill.

"I always think shame is a good (motivator)," she said with a laugh.

Pruner, a former star of television’s ‘ENG,’ called on Premier Dalton McGuinty to amend the legislation to add real supports for actors, dancers and other artists.

"Who thinks it’s a good idea that a very highly educated, highly motivated part of the workforce _ who because of the nature of their work has to transition out of it _ shouldn’t have access to training funds," asked Pruner.

"The province has a job to do here, and it ducked it."

NDP critic Cheri DiNovo said the Liberal government had clearly failed artists, and predicted there would not be any major changes to the bill before the Oct. 10 election.

"This is worse than inaction," said DiNovo.

"It’s a slap in the face to deliver an act called Status of the Artist and then have nothing in that act but a weekend celebration."

ACTRA said artists earn on average 24 per cent less than other Ontario workers, and are not protected by the province’s Employment Standards Act.

New dir. of ACTRA performer rights

TORONTO – Stephen Waddell, National Executive Director of ACTRA, today announced that Brad Keenan will be filling the position of Director, ACTRA Performers’ Rights Society (ACTRA PRS). The appointment is effective immediately.

Mr. Keenan will oversee all aspects of ACTRA PRS, including the Sound Recording Division. With his solid understanding of ACTRA’s core mission to protect the rights of Canadian professional performers, Mr. Keenan will be responsible for the advocacy of ACTRA’s intellectual property rights and initiatives.

Mr. Keenan specializes in ensuring that compensation is received for the use of intellectual property rights through licensing of music and name, image and likeness rights. He has worked extensively with the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA), the Audio Visual Licensing Agency (AVLA) and numerous other associations and collectives. Previously, Mr. Keenan spent nine years working at SONY BMG MUSIC (CANADA) INC. in both the Toronto and New York offices. As Director, Music Licensing & Partnership Marketing, Brad Keenan is a proven advocate of intellectual property rights holders.

ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) is a national organization of professional performers working in the English-language recorded media in Canada. ACTRA represents the interests of 21,000 members across Canada – the foundation of Canada’s highly acclaimed professional performing community.

CRTC report proves Canada’s broadcasting system is broken

Toronto – The CRTC’s 2007 Broadcasting Report confirms that Canadian broadcasters are decreasing their spending on homegrown drama while rapidly filling our airwaves with foreign programming. Canada’s broadcasters spent $401,510,563 on foreign drama programming expenses in 2005 and $478,624,087 in 2006 – a 19.2% increase. Spending on Canadian drama programs have dropped from $82,226,776 in 2005 to $70,918,605 in 2006 – a 13.7% decrease.

“Our broadcasters have decreased their spending on Canadian drama by almost $12 million over the past year”, said Stephen Waddell, ACTRA’s National Executive Director. “Canadian private broadcasters bid against each other at the L.A. Screenings each May and spend more on U.S. programming in one day than they do on Canadian drama in one year. They are filling our public airwaves with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of U.S.-made drama programs and Canadian culture pays the price.”

ACTRA has been sounding the alarm about the crisis in Canadian television drama for years, and demands that the CRTC fix its disastrous 1999 Television Policy. At the CRTC’s review of the regulatory framework for Canadian over-the-air television ACTRA, on December 4, 2006, proposed that the CRTC set a regulatory minimum expenditure of 7% of revenues on English-language drama.

“The CRTC’s recent hearings are crucial for fixing the destructive policy that removed spending requirements for Canadian broadcasters. Clearly the CRTC recognizes the problem and must address it now.” said Waddell.

Ontario Budget supports performers

Toronto, March 22, 2007 – Performers are heartened by the mention in today’s Ontario budget that Status of the Artist legislation will be introduced in 2007.

“We’re hopeful that this signal by Dalton McGuinty’s government that they will be introducing Status of the Artist legislation will actually happen and that it will contain the real progress for artists we’ve been seeking. Progress such as tax relief for artists through an Ontario-based tax deferral system that would allow artists to spread their income over several years, and support for housing for aging artists,” said Karl Pruner, President of ACTRA Toronto Performers.

“ACTRA members and other artists have been to Queen’s Park over and over again in the last year to press for long-promised legislation for artists. This promise that a law will be introduced is several years overdue. Now we need to make sure these aren’t hollow words,” added Pruner.

Pruner acknowledged the budget’s inclusion of additional funding for the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC).

“I’m glad to see investments to strengthen and invest in our film and television industry through the OMDC,” said Pruner.

Strike nearly ‘nail in coffin’ for Canada’s entertainment industry say experts

TORONTO (CP) _ A bitter six-week labour dispute between Canadian actors and producers was nearly the "final nail in the coffin" for the country’s already battered film and television industry, which experts say now faces a long, hard, uphill climb along the road to recovery.

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists went on strike Jan. 8 and later extended their protest to Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The dispute, which focused on wages and how actors should be compensated for work across new media platforms, lasted for more than six weeks before a tentative agreement was announced last week, to the collective relief of an industry that observers say has suffered a substantial blow.

"This labour dispute drove a lot of business away from here and it’s going to take time to bring it back," said John Barrack, the national executive vice-president for the Canadian Film and Television Production Association and chief negotiator during the strike.

"Productions are planned six months to a year in advance and the labour instability hurts, so it’s going to take some time for that work to come back."

But Paul Bronfman, chairman and CEO for The Comweb Group, said the strike was just the latest problem for an industry that was already reeling from a number of other factors.

"The strike certainly was almost the final nail in the coffin," said Bronfman, speaking from the CFTPA’s conference in Ottawa.

"That basically held everybody hostage . . . right now (the industry) is being taken off life support and it’s going to take us months to recover from this fiasco."

It’s unclear exactly how much money was lost due to the strike, though the experts agree a number of American productions took one look at the labour unrest and decided to film elsewhere. Toronto, the heart of Canada’s film industry, lost an estimated $400 million in production revenue.

Yet CFTPA figures suggest the industry has been in financial decline for several years. Film and television production dipped nine per cent in 2004-05, "an indicator that a downward trend is beginning," the association’s report says.

In that same time period, production generated 11 per cent fewer jobs than the previous year _ the third straight annual decrease.

Charlie Keil, the director of the University of Toronto’s cinema studies program, said the strike "added insult to injury" because a number of other factors are already working against the industry.

A number of "unforeseeable blights," including the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Toronto’s SARS outbreak in 2003, took a heavy toll that has yet to be recovered. A strong Canadian dollar relative to its U.S. counterpart has also made Canada less appealing to U.S. producers.

But what has really hurt the industry is the very thing that once gave it life, said Keil.

"Various incentives and tax breaks made Canada an appealing place to do business," he said. Then, "other municipalities (in the U.S.) figured out that they too could offer competitive tax incentives."

With jurisdictions outside Canada constantly upping the ante, Hollywood North has had a difficult time competing.

Still, there remains reason for optimism, said Stephen Waddell, the union’s national executive director and strike negotiator.

"Given that the (American) studios will be presumably beginning to stockpile productions looking forward to the potential for a Writers Guild of America or Screen Actors Guild strike in the U.S., I think we’ll see increased production in Ontario."

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