The federal Conservative government has rejected a funding request by Montreal's gay arts festival, just weeks after a Tory MP suggested the Tourism Minister was punished for funding Pride Toronto.

In May, organizers of Montreal's Divers/Cité applied for $155,000 under the Marquee Tourism Events Program, and bureaucrats confirmed that the application met all of the criteria. During this month's Pride Toronto funding fiasco, Divers/Cité's director told Xtra.ca that she was optimistic her festival would still receive funding. She also defended the Tories, claiming that the federal government was treating gay events fairly.

But Divers/Cité learned today that their recent funding request was denied by Industry Minister Tony Clement's office, despite having met all of the criteria, reports the Canadian Press.

Divers/Cité's marketing director Paul Girard says he was told too many events applied for funds under the $100-million tourism program, and that the government had to say no to some events.

Clement took over responsibility for the tourism funding program last month. Tory MP Brad Trost suggested that Tourism Minister Diane Ablonczy lost the file as punishment for her decision to give $400,000 to Pride Toronto — a claim Clement's office has denied. Clement has since promised to "review" the funding program to ensure that Canadians are getting "value for taxpayer money."

In a story published on a rightwing news website on Jul 6, Trost said that the Pride funding came as a shock to most of the Conservative caucus and the Prime Minister's Office.

"The pro-life and the pro-family community should know and understand that the tourism funding money that went to the gay pride parade in Toronto was not government policy, was not supported by — I think it's safe to say by a large majority — of the MPs," said Trost. "This was a very isolated decision."

While pressure mounted against the Tories, Divers/Cité director Suzanne Girard came to the government's defence. She claimed that the Montreal gay arts festival has received steady support since the Tories came into power. Divers/Cité has received regular funds from Canadian Heritage and Economic Development Canada, so Girard was optimistic the festival would also receive money from the new Marquee Tourism Events Program.

Today, she told the Canadian Press she was shocked.

"They changed the rules as they went along," she said. "I feel like I've been had."

Montreal's Black & Blue festival also applied for tourism funding, but organizer Robert Vezina told Xtra.ca earlier this month that he wasn't getting his hopes up.

Black & Blue has not received any funding since the federal Conservatives came to power, despite getting funding from the previous Liberal government.

"Every time that the civil servants approve funding, it still has to be signed by the minister, so he has the authority to reverse the decision by the civil servants, and that's exactly what the Conservative minister did to us," Vezina told Xtra.ca. He has been told that Black & Blue — a gay event — is not "family oriented enough" and does not meet the Conservatives' funding criteria.

Despite the claim that money in the tourism program is limited, the Tories have found plenty of cash for other festivals. Today, Clement's office announced two large grants under the Marquee Tourism Events Program: the Calgary Folk Festival will receive $155,000 and Les FrancoFolies de Montreal gets $1.5 million.

— with files from Dale Smith

Divers/Cité.
Jul 26 - Aug 2.
diverscite.org.

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