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City of Ottawa jumps first hurdle in securing $2.5M festival and arts commitment

Battle brewing over city's quality of life spending; Pride girds its loins

Capital Pride spoke to city councillors about cash for the city’s beleaguered festivals Feb 1, hoping to end two decades of neglect of Ottawa’s most visible queer event.

A recommendation to establish $2.5 million over four years in stable funding for arts and cultural spending passed its first stage of approval with a 9-0 vote of the Community and Protective Services committee. Next, it must pass a vote by city council’s 24 members Feb 14. If approved it would form part of the discussions around passing the city’s budget in the last three days of the month and could get nixed there.

And even if the dollars are approved, it doesn’t outright guarantee Pride increased funding. But an increase in funding will have the greatest impact on medium-sized festivals like Pride, says Pride board member Marion Steele.

In fact, Pride has already applied.

“One way or another, we’re expecting a grant. Whether that pot will be sweetened, that’s the question,” Pride chair Gordon Boissonneault told Capital Xtra in a phone interview.

Currently, a few large festivals carve up the bulk of the funding pie; so the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival gets $100,000 and Capital pride a measly $1000.

In 2006, the majority of city councillors voted against giving $20,000 in emergency funding to Pride after it had approved $50,000 for the Tulip Festival and $75,000 for the Franco-Ontarien festival. Under the proposal now being considered, the funding will be handled administratively, out of a bigger envelope, “so we won’t have to come crawling to council every year,” says Steele.

“We were denied much needed dollars to cover site fencing that would enable us to charge an admission fee to cover costs and to purchase the $2 million of insurance coverage required by the City. Had those costs been covered, 2006 would have shown a larger profit that would have paid down some of our debt load,” Steele told councillors.

“Had it not been for the generosity of a business that stepped up to the plate at the 11th hour, there would not have been a Pride Festival or Pride Parade here in Ottawa last year.”

“We’re facing all the same hurdles we were last year; nothing has changed,” Boissonneault says.

The committee passed a dozen recommendations, including that $1.5 million for arts and festivals be included in 2007’s budget, with $650,000 earmarked for festivals. The committee also recommended that staff continue “tracking ‘in-kind’ services and ‘invoiced’ services in 2007 to provide an analysis and a report back prior to the 2008 budget respecting a policy for ‘in-kind’ and ‘invoiced’ services.”

Councillor Georges Bédard says that councilors in the past “haven’t got the guts” to add this as a line item, adding “We should be signing contacts [with festivals] for the next three years, so they can at least plan,” he says.

The nine city councillors on the Community and Protective Services board represent some most of the city’s most progressive, including Bédard, Diane Holmes, Alex Cullen, and Peggy Feltmate. At committee, Rick Chiarelli voted for the motion but indicated that he might not continue to support it in the coming weeks.

The task of convincing him, the remaining 14 councillors and mayor Larry O’Brien to vote in favour of festival cash may have been made easier by the proposal.

Whereas individual requests often fell victim to ward pettiness (councillors teased Rick Chiarelli that he supported arts funding when it lead to the establishment of Centrepointe Theatre, for instance), the network links Pride to events like the Carp Fair and Westfest in wards outside the downtown core.

Steele is encouraging the community to fire off a quick e-mail to city councillors.

Here’s a list of the councillor’s addresses:

larry.obrien@ottawa.ca, bob.monette@ottawa.ca, rainer.bloess@ottawa.ca, jan.harder@ottawa.ca, marianne.wilkinson@ottawa.ca, eli.el-chantiry@ottawa.ca, shad.qadri@ottawa.ca, alex.cullen@ottawa.ca, rick.chiarelli@ottawa.ca, gord.hunter@ottawa.ca, diane.deans@ottawa.ca, michel.bellemare@ottawa.ca, georges.bedard@ottawa.ca, jacques.legendre@ottawa.ca, diane.holmes@ottawa.ca, christine.leadman@ottawa.ca, maria.mcrae@ottawa.ca, clive.doucet@ottawa.ca, peter.hume@ottawa.ca, rob.jellett@ottawa.ca, doug.thompson@ottawa.ca, glenn.brooks@ottawa.ca, steve.desroches@ottawa.ca, peggy.feltmate@ottawa.ca.