Canadian talks wrap but strike still looms


TORONTO -- Canadian actors and North American producers wrapped two days of contract talks in Montreal on Wednesday with little progress made toward averting an industry shutdown early in the new year.

The negotiations, which saw performers union ACTRA face off with U.S. producers, Canadian English-language producers represented by the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. and Quebec producers aligned with the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec (APFTQ), have yet to move beyond procedural wrangling and begin tackling key issues.

Stephen Waddell, ACTRA's national executive director and chief negotiator, reported that no ground was made this week on such major issues as wages, new media and residuals.

"We still seem to be miles apart in substance," he said after talks concluded Wednesday.

John Barrack, CFTPA national executive vp and chief negotiator, also said there were "many miles to go," but expressed optimism given that both sides were still talking. "We're in early days, but we've moved from an (ACTRA) posture of 'remove everything off the table' to an open dialogue," he said.

In addition, both sides continue to meet without the assistance of formal mediators -- Reg Pearson in Ontario and Richard Champagne in Quebec -- who are poised to step in to help work out a deal if required.

ACTRA's Waddell said he didn't share the producers' optimism that a deal could be completed by Dec. 31 without intervention by mediators. He added that producers were resisting mediation because moving to that stage would put the actors in a legal position to strike.

ACTRA negotiators took a hard line when the latest talks began Tuesday, reiterating that Canadian performers will not accept "rollback" wage and residual demands from the producers.

The North American producers, including representatives for major studios, were told they had failed to convince the actors that any financial straits they faced were due to wage rates for Canadian actors and that rolling back those rates would put them back in the black.

ACTRA negotiators also repeated demands for wage increases and eventual Screen Actors Guild parity for acting work on high-budget U.S. productions in Canada.

Canadian industry players, alarmed at the prospect of a possible actors strike after the current Independent Production Agreement expires Dec. 31, have put pressure on both sides in the talks to work out a deal and head off an industry shutdown.

Canadian actors have never gone on strike, but they did hand their union leadership overwhelming strike mandates on two occasions during the 1990s and are currently being polled on a third strike vote.

Waddell said he anticipated the "largest positive strike vote in its history" when ACTRA finishes tallying up votes Dec. 15.

Both sides are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Dec. 6.