Not long ago, I received a warm and graceful fan letter from a Baptist minister in a small Nova Scotian town. He had just finished my most recent book, Sailing Away from Winter, and he had enjoyed it very much. He was puzzled, though, that I had included dismissive remarks “about evangelicals and their Bibles” without any explanation. Many evangelicals are very fine people, he noted, and he hoped I had not been soured by a chance encounter with a distasteful one.
Hmm. I did lob the occasional drollery at ardent and simplistic Christians, including a comment that I hadn't found a wide diversity among cruisers. I expected -- but didn't find -- “nature freaks camp-cruising in dinghies, young families poking south in dowdy old ketches, sleek stockbrokers in fast motor-yachts, drifting hobos in grotty ex-fishboats, students in cramped sloops, evangelists navigating by faith and laden with Bibles.”
Pretty innocuous. I assured the minister that I too know plenty of Christian fundamentalists who live generous and productive lives. But I also noted that evangelicals, by definition, evangelize, trying to convert others to their opinions. If that fails, they're often quite willing to impose their values unilaterally.
And, I confess, I am intolerant about intolerance. I don't care much for folks who believe they have The Truth and who don't respect my right to disagree -- and that applies equally whether the dogmatic proselytizer is a Marxist, a Catholic, a free-market fanatic, a tobacco totalitarian, a Wahabi Muslim, an environmental fanatic or a Holy Roller. I am not warm and fuzzy about people who want to dictate the way that my conscience and I will get along in this world.
Which brings us to the stunning example of Charles McVety, Stephen Harper, and Canadian film policy.
Canadian dramatic films generally require government funding, because films are ferociously expensive to make, and Canada's small domestic market does not generate enough revenue to repay those costs. To have our own films, telling our own stories, we invest collectively in new film projects through public agencies like Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board, various provincial film offices and the CBC.
The process of financing a Canadian film is fiendishly complicated, involving broadcast licenses with TV networks, co-production arrangements with producers abroad, theatrical distribution deals, and much more. As a Halifax producer once told me, his job is “not about making the film. It's about making the deal.”
The final ingredient in the deal – which comes in when all the other pieces are in place – is provincial and federal investment. Without that public support, we simply wouldn't have a film industry of any importance, and we wouldn't enjoy shows like DeGrassi, Bowling for Columbine, Little Mosque on the Prairie and Away from Her.
And that's why the Canadian film industry is up in arms about proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act. The revisions provide for regulations allowing federal bureaucrats to withdraw funding for a film all by themselves, even after the funding has been committed by agencies like Telefilm. The funds may be withdrawn if the bureaucrats think that the project contains too-explicit sexual material, denigrates an identifiable group, portrays “excessive” violence without “an educational value” or is otherwise “contrary to public public policy.” Naturally, there's no appeal.
And film producers won't learn the mandarins' opinions until they complete the film and file their tax return – and are denied the tax credit they were promised. At that point, the producers will presumably have to repay any government investment. Since few will be able to do that, many will face bankruptcy.
Sane producers will not put themselves in that position. Instead, they simply won't make controversial, edgy films. Which – one darkly wonders – may be exactly what the Harperites have in mind. Paranoid? Enter Charles McVety, an evangelist, the head of the Canadian Family Action Coalition. McVety claims he's largely responsible for convincing the Tory ministers, notably Stockwell Day, to implement this loopy idea.
“It's fitting with conservative values, and I think that's why Canadians voted for a Conservative government,” says McVety.
Well, no. Canadians voted to rid themselves of the Liberals, but, as the polls show, they remain wary of the Conservatives. And with good reason.
Today's Conservative party is mainly yesterday's Reform and Canadian Alliance parties, which were filled with zeal to re-make Canada on evangelical principles. Stephen Harper would never have been elected had he not managed to keep his nutbars in their wrappers. But now and again a Charles McVety gets loose, reminding us all that a nation which pleases the core Tory supporters will not really please anyone else.
As a Globe and Mail letter-writer observed, at least this episode tells us what to do about our troops in Afghanistan. We should bring them home. The Taliban are already here.
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