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Cineplex calls for federal support as most theatres remain closed

Last Updated May 20, 2021 at 8:31 am EDT

A closed Cineplex Odeon is shown in Whitby, Ont. on July 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The head of Cineplex Inc. is calling on federal and provincial leaders to draft up a better plan to support Canada’s hobbled movie exhibitors.

While most of the country’s theatres are still closed under COVID-19 restrictions, Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob says it’s time health officials across the provinces agree to “be consistent and move forward” with cinema reopenings in the coming weeks.

In an interview after Cineplex’s annual meeting, Jacob says COVID-19 safety rules have varied wildly by province, with Quebec well ahead of the game having most theatres in operation and auditorium capacity limits far above what others are anticipated to allow.

Jacob is also urging the federal government to show movie exhibitors the kind of support it’s given to other arts and culture sectors.

In April’s budget, the feds earmarked $300 million over two years for a recovery fund meant to rebuild the entertainment sector. None of that money was reserved for exhibition chains or independent cinemas.

Jacobs says federal leaders were fast to speak about preserving Cineplex from foreign investment less than two years ago when U.K.-based giant Cineworld planned to acquire the business.

“The finance minister says the cultural sector is one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, but when it comes to relief, we are not part of the mix,” he added.

“It’s very disappointing.”