Stephen Harper government won’t fund Toronto gay pride festival

Decision to nix Pride funding a ‘slap in the face’

Paul Moloney
Vanessa LuStaff Reporters

Ottawa’s decision not to fund Toronto’s Pride festival this year is “very disappointing,” say organizers, who blame the political furor that resulted from last year’s grant.

“We are very surprised. We qualified last year and we expected to get at least something,” said executive director Tracey Sandilands of the festival’s request for $600,000.

In 2009, the Pride festival received a $400,000 grant under the Marquee Tourism Eventsprogram, a special two-year $100 million stimulus fund to draw tourists and their dollars to communities across Canada.

“It was all the fuss and bother last year. It’s difficult to believe it isn’t a political agenda,” said Sandilands, referring to the uproar resulting from a photo opportunity last year when then-tourism minister Diane Ablonczy was photographed with drag queens at the Gladstone Hotel.

Shortly after that event, the file was turned over to Industry Minister Tony Clement.

In an interview Saturday, Clement dismissed any suggestion of bias, saying the program was reworked this year to ensure more events qualified, by limiting funding to two events in big cities because much of last year’s grants were concentrated in Toronto and Montreal.

This year, Toronto’s Luminato festival will be getting $2.5 million and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair will get $1.9 million.

“There were a lot of events that were meritorious that unfortunately were not able to be funded,” Clement told the Star, adding Luminato is still new, seeking a national and international audience, and the Royal has rebounded after some difficult years.

Sandilands said the Pride festival, scheduled from June 25 to July 4, will go ahead, but there is not enough time to make up the funding shortfall. As a result, plans for additional headline artists and marketing efforts will be cut, although a free concert with Cyndi Lauper is still on.

Her group estimates last year’s $400,000 investment translated into an additional $6 million in economic activity.

“We believe this sends the message that queer events are not worthy investing in,” said Sandilands, noting Pride was the only queer event to receive support over two years.

Clement responded: “That’s reading too much into it.” He emphasized that the Pride festival, now in its 30th year, is a successful event with lots of attention and sponsorship, and “quite frankly they are doing fine.”

Councillor Kyle Rae said he was not surprised by the decision. “Reading the political tea leaves from last year, and Diane Ablonczy being shoved aside, I think all of us saw that this was going to happen,” said Rae.

“The federal government is discriminating against an organization that fills all the hotels in the city. And they aren’t going to fund it. What more do you need to know about this discriminatory, Neanderthal government?”

Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi called urged all candidates to speak up against the federal government’s decision.

“I call on all the mayoral candidates to stand united,” Rossi said. “This is a blow to tourism and diversity in Toronto and it’s not acceptable.”

Mayoral candidate George Smitherman, who’s gay, said the federal grant program is to support marquee events, and Pride is considered one of the top marquee events in the country.

“I think it’s shocking that they’ve pulled the rug out from under Pride, one of the country’s marquee tourism events so close to the time of the festival,” Smitherman said. “It’s regrettable and irresponsible and it comes as a slap in the face to the community.”

Mayoral candidate Rob Ford said events like Pride should be supported by private sector sponsors, not taxpayers.

“I’ve always said the public sector shouldn’t be funding parades, no matter what parade it is,” Ford said. “The private sector should be sponsoring these parades.”

But mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone said that during times of austerity, governments usually cut back but don’t cancel grants outright.

“If the idea is to address budget issues, usually there’s a reduction. Elimination is a drastic action, a statement which speaks volumes. It’s not fair and it’s not right.”

Stephen Harper government won’t fund Toronto gay pride festival

Joan BrydenThe Canadian Press

OTTAWA—The Harper government is being labelled homophobic for refusing to fund Toronto’s gay pride festival this year.

The festival received $400,000 last year from the marquee tourism events program but it won’t get a nickel this year.

Industry Minister Tony Clement insisted Friday the decision has nothing to do with anti-gay sentiment among some members of the ruling Conservative caucus.

Rather, he said the government decided to fund fewer events in major cities this year so it can spread the money around more equitably to smaller centres.

But festival organizers and opposition critics maintained homophobia was behind the decision. And they claimed exclusion of the pride festival is part of a pattern that suggests hard-right, social conservatives are now in charge of the government.

The decision not to fund the festival comes on the heels of recent funding cuts to women’s groups and the government’s refusal to fund abortion as part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s G8 maternal health initiative.

“This is again another example, in my opinion, of a reckless, ideological cut from a Conservative government which actually has a history of attacking gay rights,” said Liberal tourism critic Navdeep Bains.

Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands pointed out some Conservative MPs were aghast last year when Diane Ablonczy, then tourism minister, gave the festival $400,000.

Shortly afterward, responsibility for the marquee program was shifted from Ablonczy to Clement. Tory MP Brad Trost told an anti-abortion website that Ablonczy was being punished for making a funding decision that was not supported by “a large majority of MPs.”

Trost’s interpretation of events was denied by the government but Sandilands said the flap was a clear sign “there was definitely homophobia at work then.”

This year, she said the qualifying criteria for funding has not changed and other events, including the Calgary Stampede, have received funding for the second year in a row.

“That indicates to me that something has changed between last year and this year and it’s not our eligibility,” Sandilands said.

“So the only thing it can be is some kind of homophobia. I mean, it makes sense.”

But Clement said in an interview it’s inaccurate to say the pride festival’s funding has been “cut off.” He said there was “a whole new application process” this year and no event was guaranteed to get money just because they got some last year.

Last year, Clement said the lion’s share of the marquee program’s funding went to large urban centres, particularly Toronto and Montreal. This year, the major cities were limited to two successful applications, allowing the government to spread the largesse around to smaller centres across the country.

The two Toronto events that will get funding are the Luminato arts festival and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Clement said both are making new attempts to reach international audiences.

By contrast, he said the pride festival is “a very successful event, it’s obviously able to stand on its own two feet.”

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