May 4, 2022
-by Frank Macdonald
One of the massive mistakes made by the former Liberal government of Stephen McNeil was its near immediate decision to end financial support for the film industry in Nova Scotia. It was a decision that devastated a program that had helped foster film-making in the province, as well as making it a welcome location for the shooting of major, out-of-province, out-of-country films.
The damage to Nova Scotia’s filmmakers was immediate, and ended incentives for major filmmakers to film here. This happened at a time when the Canadian loonie was plummeting, creating a great incentive for filmmakers in the US to come to Canada to make feature films. As Nova Scotia was closing its doors to this significant opportunity, other provinces such as British Columbia could barely accommodate the number of filmmakers who wanted to shoot their scripts in that province.
Essentially, off to a good start as a new government, Nova Scotia’s present Progressive Conservative government under Premier Tim Houston has committed an act as mindless as McNeil’s.
Its decision to increase, to the point of discouragement, taxes on out-of-province homeowners needs an immediate and major rethink. People in the process of preparing to build homes here, primarily for seasonal use, have already decided, or are considering abandoning such projects, because the after construction costs for taxes have become prohibitive. These homeowners have been targeted as a source of easy money for a government in need of increased revenues.
One common reaction among many Nova Scotians to the government’s announcement is that “Oh, it’s just a tax on wealthy Americans. They can afford it.”
Of course, the “wealthy American” is someone for whom there is considerable envy and little sympathy in this province or elsewhere, but the reality is that not all American homeowners in Nova Scotia are Elon Musk. Nor are all out-of-province homeowners foreigners. A large number, probably the majority, of these non-resident homeowners are Canadians.
What would have been a reasonable bit of research for the provincial government to have considered before implementing its massive tax increase would be to identify the number of ‘out-of-province’ homeowners who are Nova Scotian-born and raised.
For a couple of centuries, Nova Scotia, along with the rest of the Maritimes, has supplied Canada’s migrant workforce. Each year, hundreds, even thousands, of Nova Scotians have been forced to leave their homes in Nova Scotia, a land of little opportunity, to earn their living (which are not necessarily their fortunes) in other provinces where their blood, sweat, tears, degrees and ideas, have helped shape this nation.
For many, perhaps most, their lives have been successfully replanted in other provinces where their professional opportunities had room to grow. So, in many of these other provinces workers from places such as Cape Breton have met other people, married, and settled down to raise families with a degree of economic security. But as we Cape Bretoners have always known, while most of us may have had to move elsewhere, our hearts have remained here at home.
Perhaps a large number of these ex-pats expected that with retirement they would move back to the home of their hearts. But the children they raised elsewhere often decide to stay in the place where they were raised. They marry and have children, making grandparents of people who had hopes and plans to return to Cape Breton or Nova Scotia. These plans changed with the realization that moving back here would mean leaving their children and grandchildren behind, only visiting for a week or two each year.
The compromise, for many, has been to buy a home back home, a place where they can come to see their extended families, the numerous friends of their youth, their neighbours.
Certainly, until recent real estate price surges, buying a house back home was a far more affordable undertaking than, in some cases, buying a house in whatever city they dwelled. It was a price they could afford, with property taxes they could afford.
With the provincial government’s new budget cash grab, estimated in some cases to be a 250 per cent increase in property taxes, the financial shock to out-of-province homeowners has been universal. The government didn’t pay much attention to where out-of-province homeowners hung their hearts, being only interested in where they kept their bank accounts.
In the context just described, the massive property tax grab in the provincial budget seems and sounds and is unfair for Cape Bretoners who, because economic development failings of previous governments denied too many with the means to stay home and build their lives and homes here.
As for those come-from-away people whom the provincial government thinks it is relieving off “wealthy people’s” small change, it should also take a closer look. For the most part, these are people who have chosen to live as much as their lives among us as they can, or as work or financial means allows. Some are people of significant means, of course. But there are also people of meagre means as well, whose greatest self-indulgence has been to find the means to buy or build a house in Cape Breton or elsewhere in Nova Scotia.
We meet them every day, especially when the sun shines, or the music rises as the sun sets. Or when they stop by for a visit as they have been doing for decades, because they have been our neighbours for years.
Neither the government nor its finance department should allow their misperception of all out-of-province home ownership to be influenced by a handful of high-end, sometimes mind-boggling price-tagged new houses. They shouldn’t be deluded into believing that these new constructions represent the financial resources of all out-of-province homeowners, including those ex-pat Nova Scotians whose exile elsewhere should be considered punishment enough.
Such tunnel vision encourages a misrepresentation of the truth about out-of-province homeowners. Not all possess bottomless wealth. They don’t. But the contributions they do cumulatively make, be they former Capers, Canadians from elsewhere, or American or European, is significant, and is financially supportive of local businesses and community organizations. An unfair tax can drive away what has been an ongoing economic benefit.
Some reasonable tax alternatives have already been cited in this newspaper, and should accompany the budget-makers back to the drawing board.
The government of Premier Tim Houston can rectify this mistake quite easily with a reasonable tax increase, allowing the present proposed tax to become just a memory of a bad movie. It is a government that took immediate steps to correct McNeil’s film-funding disaster by reinvesting in the province’s film industry. It should also take rapid steps to correct one of its own mistakes.