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NDP's film friends include Liberal studio owner who privatized BC Rail

The location of Adrian Dix's campaign stop Tuesday was as much a story as what he was there to do.

NDP leader Dix headlined a news conference in a soundstage at Vancouver Film Studios to pledge his party would increase film and TV production tax credits to 40 per cent of labour costs (which are stuck at 33 to 35 per cent after the Liberals refused to hike them in their Feb. 19 budget).

It was the first major plank revealed in the NDP's platform and came three days after the controversial Times of India Film Awards happened at BC Place Stadium with a $9.5 million taxpayer subsidy.

"We're going to campaign for a forest industry that does better, for a mining industry that does better, for a film industry that does better," Dix proclaimed.

"The government, in its throne speech, laid out its vision: nothing for the film industry, one sentence for forestry and pages just for oil and gas. We have the oil and gas industry and LNG, we're supportive of that, but we're not supportive of the exclusion of other things. We're for an open and dynamic, growing economy."

Dix was Glen Clark's top aide when the NDP's last-elected premier established a 20 per cent credit on labour costs and 12.5 per cent credit for shooting outside the Lower Mainland in October 1997 and visited Hollywood to promote B.C. in April 1998.

In July 1999, Clark was at the same Boundary and Grandview complex with its owner, David McLean, to announce a $20-million taxpayer loan to expand the studio from four soundstages to 10. Dix had been ousted from Clark's office in March of that year over the infamous backdated memo-to-file on the North Burnaby casino proposal, the one that Dix now owns up to.

Fast-forward to 2013 and staunch Liberal bagman McLean still owns the studio and opinion polls point to Dix as the premier-in-waiting. McLean's son, Jason, is president of the family's McLean Group and watched Dix's news conference with interest. One of the parties was listening to his lobbying to assist the industry. But not the one he was expecting.

"This was really about the industry; it wasn't, for us, a very partisan move. This is something that needs to be talked about during this campaign and I'm glad this has started," Jason McLean said. "I can only hope (the Liberals have a plan), we are certainly continuing to engage them in discussions. We have suggestions for how to improve the policy long term. I have no interest with tax credits that come and go with governments, neither does anyone in the industry. We want stable job creating tax credits that our customers find reliable and build the industry. This is a really good step forward."

David McLean's name is attached to $264,987.50 of political donations since 2005, according to Elections BC. Through 2010, his companies' cheques were written exclusively to the Liberals. Then, in 2011, $1,580 went to the NDP. Last year, $9,100. More than $5,000 of the funds over the last two years were connected to CN Rail, which McLean chairs. He was among the long list of anticipated witnesses for the 2010 trial of Liberal aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk that ended abruptly with a guilty plea bargain and $6 million legal bill absolution. Back in 2003, CN had been accused of insider information by its competitor, Canadian Pacific Railway.

Dix was asked about McLean's donations to the NDP, however small they may appear, and whether that might influence the promised public inquiry into the sale of BC Rail. It elicited a careful reply.

"Mr. McLean at this studio and Jason McLean and others have obviously done a great job. This is a great studio, and it brings lots of jobs to Vancouver, so I'm respectful of that and happy to be here," Dix said.

Pressed again, Dix said: "On the BC Rail inquiry, I'm pretty clear: there's going to be an inquiry."

Vancouver-based reporter Bob Mackin regularly contributes to The Tyee. Find his previous Tyee articles here.

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