What do the Calgary Stampede, the Cloverdale Rodeo and Toronto Pride Week have in common?
In addition to shirtless men in tight jeans and leather chaps, all three annual festivals also received funding from the Federal Marquee Tourism Events Program (MTEP).
The program was recently established “to provide targeted, time limited support to assist existing marquee tourism events to enhance their offering and deliver world class programs and experiences.”
It defines a marquee event as “an annually recurring world class event that is well established and has a long standing tradition of programming and management excellence.”
The program is open to non-profit organizations and there are strict eligibility criteria about audience attendance and size of operating funds.
Toronto Pride Week was among the fortunate organizations to be granted the funds this year. They received $397,500 to expand access to people with disabilities and to attract big name performers to the annual street festival.
Microseconds after Conservative MP and Minister of State for Tourism Diane Ablonczy posed with a group of drag queens at a press conference to announce her decision to approve Toronto Pride’s application, she was abruptly removed from the Marquee portfolio.
What does this tell us about her boss, Stephen Harper? That even though Toronto Pride was perfectly eligible under the criteria, he disapproved of Ablonczy’s decision to grant funds to the queer festival?
That Toronto Pride Week was welcome to go through the grueling application process but no one in the PM’s office actually had any intention of approving the application?
That Stephen Harper’s neo-con, George W Bush-style socially conservative, homophobic agenda rules every decision he makes?
According to Conservative MP Brad Trost, Ablonczy’s decision to give Toronto Pride almost $400,000 came as a shock to most of the Conservative caucus and even the Prime Minister’s Office. No shit. Quite frankly it comes as a shock to this socially progressive, unabashedly leftwing queer columnist.
How shocking that anyone in Stephen Harper’s cabinet, especially someone like Diane Ablonczy, whose record is decidedly socially conservative, would approve a grant to a queer event.
Perhaps she’s become a fuller human being recently and realizes that in a democracy it is not appropriate for a member of parliament to allow her personal views to affect her work.
Or perhaps she’s coming out of the closet. Perhaps she has a girlfriend, a sweet older femme or a big strong butch, and she acted out of personal conviction.
Or perhaps when she reviewed Toronto Pride’s application and saw that the annual fest is the largest Gay Pride parade in North America, bigger even than the San Francisco Pride Parade or the New York City Pride March, bringing 100 million tourist dollars into Ontario, she really had no choice but to grant the funds.
It’s unclear what Ablonczy’s fate will be but for now she’s stripped of the responsibility for this program.
The Conservative spin-doctors say the portfolio was given to Minister of Industry Tony Clement because he suddenly has free time on his hands. I guess because industry is booming? Poor Tony was probably sitting in his office playing solitaire on his PC to pass the time.
Clearly removing Ablonczy was a punishment, an act of admonishment from the great and powerful Oz, I mean, Harper. What’s next? After this obvious reprimand will he send her to bed without supper? Make her stand in the corner? Write on the black board 100 times “I will not give federal funds to queers?”
And why was Vancouver Pride Week not even eligible to apply to the program? Or Calgary, Nanaimo, Regina, St John’s or Halifax Pride? The official answer is the smaller cities don’t attract the same numbers, nor do they have a large enough operating budget. Fair enough. Grant programs have to have some criteria. But who set the bar and why were regional differences not accounted for?
Of course Toronto Pride attracts bigger numbers. Not only is Toronto three times the size of Vancouver, people from all over Ontario and New York State can simply jump in their cars and be there in a few hours.
Even if we pretend that homophobia had nothing to do with which organizations received the funding, the events chosen are predominantly in Ontario and Quebec. Gosh, I’m shocked. Aren’t you? How novel. Most of the funds from a federal grant program remained in central Canada. Only two organizations in BC made the cut: the Cloverdale Rodeo and The Vancouver Jazz Festival.
One could speculate that the only reason this so-called stimulus grant exists in the first place is because Stevie almost lost his grip on the country last December when the NDP and Liberals almost formed a coalition to unseat the PM in a non-confidence vote over his budget, which seemed oblivious to the fact that just like the rest of the planet, Canada is in a terrible recession.
Even though Harper pretends it’s not so, let’s not forget his is a minority government and another federal election is just around the corner.
The queer community can be happy that Toronto Pride received a small slice of the Marquee pie. We should also be angry that only one GLBT event was awarded the funding.
And we should be concerned that the minister responsible for approving Toronto Pride’s application has been given a very public spanking for doing so.
Perhaps next time Stephen Harper decides to spank a cabinet minister he should dress for the part — shirtless and stuffed into a pair of tight jeans and leather chaps.