During Question Period today, Liberal MP Marlene Jennings stood up and asked about the removal of Diane Ablonczy from the Marquee Tourism Events Program, and about the supposed “special scrutiny” for those festivals which celebrate gays and lesbians, women’s groups, and so on.
Clement was outraged by the “odious accusations,” and demanded that Jennings apologize to those groups. They carried it out into the foyer during the scrums.
Jennings: As we all know now, the Prime Minister was secretly taped at this closed-door meeting he had with Conservative supporter and Conservative members. At that meeting, the Prime Minister is heard and seen to be talking about how you have all of these “fringe” minority groups. We also know that Ms Ablonczy was demoted, taken off the Marquee Tourism file because she had approved, completely within the criteria of the program, over $500,000 to support the Toronto Gay Pride festival and parade, and she was removed like that from Tony Clement with the approval and blessing of the Prime Minister. So clearly the Prime Minister sees gays and lesbians as a “fringe group.” We already know that they’ve removed funding to women’s groups, so he sees women as “fringe groups,” and Minister Clement directed his officials to give “special scrutiny” to these groups, to any events that are directly related to these groups. So the Conservatives must have a list of all of the groups that they consider to be “fringe” minority groups, and we’d like to know what that list is. Come clean, Conservatives – tell Canadians who’s on the list, who’s going to be subject to this special scrutiny and might not get funding, even if they actually meet the criteria, simply because they’re lesbians, or they’re gays, or they’re women’s groups that fight for women’s rights.
Clement: This is par for the course – we had a situation where she did Phase One of this programme. I, as the minister with portfolio, wanted to review a brand-new programme because it was brand new, I want to make sure that it meets our objectives and meets the public policy objectives for the people of Canada, and she was moving on to deal with other small business issues, other national tourism strategy policies that she’s been pursuing, so we had a transfer of authority. I wish I could tell you more, but that’s it.
Reporter: Mr Clement, I’ve spoken to bureaucrats at Industry Canada who say they’ve never heard that there was going to be a transfer of authority, so I’m wondering when they were told that was going to happen.
Clement: I don’t know who you’ve been speaking to, but from our perspective, it makes sense to us to review a programme after its initial stages and that’s exactly what we’ve did. The memo that you cited is a very standard memo where we transfer authority from one Minister to another, and in fact, I’m required to sign those – they are specifically required to be coming from a minister rather than the bureaucracy. I know you’re looking for the smoking gun or some other kind of other agenda, but quite frankly, to be accused as I’ve been accused by Madame Jennings, to be some form of homophobe – quite frankly I find that offensive, and anyone who knows me knows that’s ridiculous.
Reporter: Were you comfortable with Pride Toronto getting the grant?
Clement: Look, I’m comfortable with all of the decisions we’ve made to date, and the fact of the matter is, some of those programs got grants, others didn’t. We didn’t fund every folk festival – Calgary Folk Festival got funding, but Mariposa Folk Festival didn’t. That doesn’t make me folkaphobic.