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How did Pride spend its grant?

Less than 10 percent to touted disability enhancements

A controversial $400,000 federal grant given to Pride Toronto earlier this year through the Marquis Tourism Events Program (MTEP) was used to secure headlining performers like Kelly Rowland rather than, as previously announced, to provide new accessibility services for disabled Pride attendees.

MTEP is a $100-million, two-year federal stimulus program designed to help major annual festivals spend more on programming and promotion in an effort to attract more tourists.

Earlier this summer a Conservative backbencher alleged that the Harper government removed responsibility for MTEP from minister of state (Small Business and Tourism) Diane Ablonczy because she used it to fund Toronto’s Pride celebration. The government denied the Pride Toronto award was the reason for Ablonczy’s demotion but later refused outright a similar grant request from Montreal’s Divers/Cité festival.

A Jun 15 Pride Toronto press release quotes executive director Tracey Sandilands saying, “The initiatives supported by the program will enhance the festival in many ways, including improvements to the visitor experience and services for people with disabilities.”

The claim that the grant money was to be spent on disability services was perpetuated in mainstream press reports on the Ablonczy controversy. And Sandilands alluded again to the MTEP grant as being for improved accessibility services at Pride’s Sep 17 annual general meeting.

But Pride Toronto fundraising director Ryan Lester now says that less than 10 percent of the MTEP grant money was spent on disability services and that, compared with last year, 2009 festival improvements for the disabled were minimal.

“We did employ specialized sign-language interpreters on the stages,” says Lester. “We spent more money on the disability risers on the TD-Wellesley stage, enhanced the risers with furniture and food and beverage, and provided more personal care attendants. The only major enhancements compared to last year were in performers and production.”

Lester says Industry Canada was well aware Pride planned to spend the majority of the money on performers.

“The primary focus [of MTEP] is to increase tourism, specifically with tourists beyond 80 kilometres,” he says. “Those are the success factors. In order to do that we asked for money to have better performers and money to support those performers with better production services and lighting.”

Pride cited confidentiality agreements among Pride Toronto, Rowland and Industry Canada as reasons for not giving Xtra the precise figure on what it paid Rowland, but Sandilands says other costs associated with her performance, including travel, security, and a specialized change room, nearly totalled her artist fees.

“We had to move really fast to find ways to create the enhancements,” says Sandilands. “We got a preferential rate because of us being Pride and she was managed by the same manager as Deborah Cox.”

Cox was already booked to perform at Pride.

Lester said he would provide Xtra with a breakdown of expenses associated with Rowland’s appearance but didn’t do so before press time.

Pride Toronto will report a full accounting of expenses related to the MTEP grant to Industry Canada later this fall, in advance of Pride’s application for a renewal of the MTEP grant for 2010.

Pride also plans to announce receipt of a provincial grant related to environmental initiatives for the 2010 festival before the end of October. The outcome of Pride Toronto’s bid to host World Pride 2014 is expected on Oct 18.