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City denies cash for Ottawa Pride

Rural councillors dominate vote against gay community celebration

Ottawa’s city council rained on the Pride Parade Jun 29 when it turned down a final plea for emergency funding of $20,000.

Without the money, Pride board members warned after the meeting, they might have to cancel this year?s festival, slated for Mon, Aug 21 to 27.

A 15-3 majority voted against two separate attempts by city councillor Diane Holmes to ensure Ottawa Pride got the cash it need.

The three councillors in favour — Holmes, Georges Bédard and Clive Doucet — represent downtown Ottawa ridings. Much of the strongest language against the vote came from councilors representing the suburban and rural areas of the city. Kitchissippi ward Councillor Shawn Little left the hall prior to the vote, upsetting members of the Pride board who said he had promised to support them.

Holmes, Bédard and Doucet pointed to the similarities between the Pride request and the emergency requests made by the Tulip Festival and the Franco-Onterien festival this spring. Council approved $50,000 for the former and $75,000 for the latter.

“It’s a shame that they had to pick a double standard,” said Pride chair Darren Fisher in an interview minutes after the decision. “The reasons that they gave were shocking.

“We avoided bankruptcy. We struggled. We were turned down.”

Holmes, in her second attempt to secure funds for Pride — in this case $12,000 to cover insurance costs — warned that if the Pride Committee is forced to file for bankruptcy, the city will not get back $50,075 owing it. The committee hopes to pay the amount in installments and at no interest, over a seven to 10 year period beginning in 2007.

Council approved six other recommendations passed by the city’s corporate services and economic development committee, including free services for this year’s festival and forgiving $16,425 in arrears from past years. Pride must also provide the city with a long-term financial sustainability plan by this December. As well, the city auditor will check Pride’s 2006 financial accounts at no cost to Pride, and staff will monitor the implementation of the long-term financial sustainability plan.

Bédard argued in favour of a cash donation for the Pride Committee. Ottawa Tourism has a campaign to attract gay tourists to the city because they spend a lot of money, he told council. A 2003 study by the agency noted tourists attending 21 of the city?s 30 festivals brought in $57 million to Ottawa, including $5.5 million in taxes. “It is important to demonstrate that this city has a lot to offer,” said Bédard. “This is an investment.”

One-time events, like the World Junior Hockey championships get major financial support from the city, noted Bédard. But ongoing yearly festivals, particularly the smaller ones like Pride, don’t get the same support.

Doucet said he feared that denying help for the city’s annual gay festival will send a bad signal to the world that the City Of Ottawa does not treat the community fairly.

In opposition, many councillors mirrored Councillor Jan Harder’s sentiment that some of their constituents have never asked “a single cent” from the city for community events.

Outside the council chambers, Fisher held back from publicly accusing councillors of homophobia. But he noted the unequal treatment given the city’s gay festival. “At the very least it’s a lack of understanding of the human rights of what that means for Pride and of what that means to various people in the [queer] community,” Fisher said.

Pride treasurer Gordon Boissonneault said the decision proved how badly this city needs an annual queer pride celebration. “It just shows how much more work we all have to do to counter this parochial attitude.”

This year is the 20th year of queer celebration in the nation?s capital.