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Anti-gay ideology behind Pride Toronto funding snub, say opposition MPs

Clement says funding capped at two events per city, but Winnipeg and Quebec City got cash for three

NDP MP Bill Siksay is the party's queer issues critic

Opposition MPs say anti-gay ideology is behind the Conservative government’s decision not to fund Pride Toronto this year under the Marquee Tourism Events Program.

On Friday afternoon, the federal government released the list of events that will receive funds as part of the 2010 economic stimulus program — and Pride Toronto was left off the list. No gay events made the cut, including Montreal’s Divers/Cité and Black and Blue festivals.

Industry Minister Tony Clement insists that the funding this year was meant to be spread across a greater number of cities, capping the events funded in major cities to two each. However, Winnipeg and the Quebec City area each received funding for three events.

“I don’t think anybody can be surprised,” says gay NDP MP Bill Siksay, who recalls how former tourism minister Diane Ablonczy was demoted in 2009 for funding Pride Toronto. “It was clear then that funding was in jeopardy for Toronto Pride, for Pride festivals anywhere.

“I think it just falls in line with the Conservatives making decisions based on ideology. We’ve seen it in recent weeks in funding for women’s organizations…. I don’t think it’s surprising at all that they would act on the basis of their ideological beliefs and deny funding to Toronto Pride this year.”

Liberal tourism critic Navdeep Bains, who raised the issue during Question Period on Monday, criticized the argument that money shouldn’t go to events that are already successful. Clement told the CBC last week that Pride Toronto is “able to stand on its own two feet,” but Bains notes that didn’t stop the Tories from funding other successful events.

“If you look at the Marquee Tourism criteria, it is to promote key marquee events around the country,” Bains tells Xtra. “The Calgary Stampede, for example, is a very successful event, and received funding last year and this year as well, so I think that logic of theirs [Clement and the Conservative government] is flawed.”

Bains also had harsh words for the Tories in a Liberal press release. “The Conservatives have a long history of attacking gay rights — and they want us to believe that this decision is all about spreading the money around?” says Bains in the release. “Their justification for cutting funding to one of Canada’s largest and best-known tourism events in North America is just another example of the Conservative culture of deceit.”

WHAT EVENTS RECEIVED FUNDS?
A selection of events that received funding from the 2010 Marquee Tourism Events Program:

Canada’s Largest Ribfest:
$98,610

Pacific National Exhibition:
$2,984,250

Dauphin’s Countryfest:
$532,560

International Plowing Match and Rural Expo:
$255,460

Festival International de Jazz de Montréal:
$3,000,000

Norfolk county Fair and Horse Show:
$171,000

Calgary Stampede:
$1,001,625

Rexall Edmonton Indy:
$821,250

Lesbian Conservative senator Nancy Ruth, who hails from Toronto, notes in an email to Xtra that the grants were “never meant to be annual,” and that groups would have known this.

She adds, “I am disappointed that Pride didn’t get $400,000 again.”

Opposition MPs questioned large amounts of money given to two Toronto events: the Luminato arts festival and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

“Based on the sheer economics of this, what Luminato contributes to the Canadian economy is simply not nearly the same extent of what Pride does,” says gay Toronto Liberal MP Rob Oliphant. “We have a million people celebrating Pride for a week. They estimated that $6 million was generated from that $400,000 grant – that’s good business for this government.”

NDP MP Olivia Chow, a former Toronto city councillor, is aware that Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair has faced financial difficulty in the past, but she questions why the agricultural event received nearly $1.9 million.

“It’s a huge amount of money,” Chow says. “Does it have as huge a turnout as Pride? Absolutely nowhere near it.”

Industry Canada officials have not responded to Xtra‘s request for clarification as to whether this year’s funding application process was the same as it was last year. Clement has said that the process was different, which contradicts statements by Pride Toronto executive director Tracey Sandilands and the Liberals. As well, Xtra seeks clarification about why Winnipeg and the Quebec City area received cash for three events, if funding was capped to two events per major city, as Clement claims.