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Divers/Cité scales back after being denied federal funds

Black & Blue Festival worried, cites Tory homophobia

NOT SPREADING THE LOVE. Divers/Cité requested $180,000, or about $2.82 per person, which is comparable to what other events received in funding. The government says the $100-million program is tight on cash, and that Quebec has got too much already. Credit: Aydin Matlabi © Divers/Cité

Five days before the festival was due to begin, Montreal’s Divers/Cité was told their application for funds from the federal Marquee Tourism Events Program (MTEP) had been denied, despite having previously been told that they qualified.

“It’s a bit sombre because we’re going to move ahead and cancel some programming and cancel some elements of the festival,” says Paul Girard, Divers/Cité’s government relations and marketing director, of the mood in the office.

The official line from Industry Canada, which manages the MTEP file, was that so many festivals in Quebec applied for the funding that not all could receive it.

“We are happy to say that there has been very strong interest in the program, unfortunately not all of the events who apply will be successful, due to the volume of applications, and the level of funding requested,” an Industry Canada spokesperson said.

And in an Alberta radio interview today, Industry Minister Tony Clement said the decision was made so that funds could be spread across the country, to ensure “regional fairness.” He said that Quebec has received 42 percent of the total MTEP funding so far.

Robert Vezina, president of the Bad Boys Club of Montreal which puts on the Black and Blue Festival, doesn’t buy it.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is more proof of the Conservative government being totally homophobic,” says Vezina. “We thought before that they just didn’t like the Black and Blue because it’s a party, but now it’s really because it’s gay and lesbian oriented. This is just more proof — what they did to Toronto Pride as well. It’s obvious.”

Girard doesn’t want to jump to the same conclusion, however.

“We’re a bit flabbergasted, but it’s more about the administration of the program than trying to tie it into any ideological differences,” says Girard.

The loss of funds means that Divers/Cité will have to do without some of the enhanced programming they had planned for the $155,000 they had asked for from MTEP. In some cases, they put down deposits on artists that ran as much as $30,000, half of which would be lost upon cancellation.

“What do you want to cancel — a screen or a DJ?” asks Girard. “Obviously we’re cancelling on the screen.”

Divers/Cité had previously received a total of $110,000 from two other federal programs, as they have for many years.

According to Girard, Divers/Cité draws 55,000 people — including 15,000 who come from out of town. Their MTEP funding would have made their request a mere $2.82 per capita.

This compares to the funding announced in Ottawa the day after Divers/Cité’s application was rejected. There, the Chamber Music Festival has been granted $213,000 from the MTEP — on top of $180,000 already granted by Heritage Canada. Given that the Chamber Music Festival only draws around 50,000 people, their funding from the MTEP alone means they received roughly $4.26 per capita — more than 10 times the amount given to Pride Toronto.

Black and Blue has asked for $125,000 for an expected attendance of 50,000, or approximately $2.50 per capita funding. It also qualifies as a bona fide tourist event — 40 percent of attendees come from outside of Canada, while another 20 percent of attendees are from elsewhere in Canada.

Vezina contrasts that with Les FrancoFolies de Montreal, a festival which received $1.5 million from the MTEP this week.

“[It’s] not even a tourist event — it’s a local event,” says Vezina. “They got $1.5 million of new money, and they don’t even need it. It’s an outdoor festival — they have lots of people who come, but it’s all local people who have no money and they attend outdoor shows, and it’s the same production company that does the Jazz Festival. It’s a French-oriented show, so they certainly don’t attract Americans and Ontarians.”

Black and Blue, he says, attracts a wealthier jet-set crowd and is a proven economic generator.

“The spending per capita of Black and Blue participants is higher than Toronto Pride or than Divers/Cité because it’s really people from Australia and California and Miami and Western Europe — it’s more of the jet-set,” says Vezina. “We attract more of the high-end gay circuit profile, and Divers/Cité and Pride Toronto attract more like Buffalo and Rochester and Ottawa and Québec City, and of course some Americans that come from further.”

Vezina says that Black and Blue also attracts more straight people than Pride Toronto or Divers/Cité.

“A lot of straight people who love electronic music, either from here or elsewhere, come to the event. We estimate that at least 30 percent of our crowd at our main event is straight.”

When asked whether the government valued queer tourist dollars, Industry Canada did not respond.

Vezina also criticized the way the government has been handling the MTEP file, where it is commonplace to make funding announcements mere days before a festival is due to begin, despite the fact that the program is supposed to help draw more tourists from abroad.

“They’re either incompetent or they don’t know how to run a program,” Vezina says. “How can you justify a program of $100 million, and it’s [handled] all wrong?”

Vezina says that Black and Blue needs their funds from the tourism program in place by the end of August.

“Half of the money that we’re requesting is to create ads and do media promotion in Western Europe, the United States and Australia, and you don’t do that three days before an event like this — you do it months in advance.”

The MTEP has come under fire from right-wing groups like the Canadian Family Action Coalition, which has claimed that the one million attendance figure for Pride Toronto is grossly exaggerated. Rightwing evangelical Charles McVety’s Institute for Canadian Values, which called its members to petition the government to end the promotion of “sex parades,” drew erroneous links between Pride parades and child sex abuse.

These may have been referred to in an email by the Prime Minister’s Office which described “an increasing number of constituent communications” related to the tourism program when it said that responsibility for the file had been moved to from Tourism Minister Diane Ablonczy to Clement.

Considering that most of the festivals receiving MTEP funds are stressing their “family friendly” qualities — as was evident during the press conference for the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival funding — Vezina is no longer sure that he will see that money.

“I’d be really surprised now if we got funding, but we’ll see.”