This year’s Pride board is a leap ahead of those of recent years, thanks largely to the presence of economist Gordon Boissonneault in the treasurer’s seat. He’s working on a plan to restructure and pay down the debt, and he knows how to hold an organization to a budget. There are other positive signs as well. For possibly the first time ever, Pride has applied for grants from the federal Heritage Canada and the provincial Trillium Foundation (Pride festivals in Toronto and Montreal get significant federal and provincial funding).
They’re also getting ready to make a case before city hall for a major grant. We’re about to find out whether city council is actually gay-positive. You may recall, as we reported in great detail in these pages last year, the Ottawa Pride festival gets a tiny fraction of the grants given to other festivals in Ottawa, and grants to Pride in Ottawa are a fraction of the grants to Pride from other Canadian cities. Ottawa city hall, in short, is screwing our community out of our fair share.
It’s also interesting to note that council is in the process of bailing out two other local festivals — the Tulip Festival and Festival Franco-Ontarien — because of their accumulated debt. Tulip lovers will get $75,000 in emergency funding plus another $23,000 for this year’s shuttle bus service, while those who celebrate local francophone culture can look forward to the city forgiving $32,613 in past debt and another $23,000 in free shuttle bus service for this year.
Surely, the gay community and our annual parade, cultural festival and human rights celebration deserves the same treatment from city council and staff?
In recommending in favour of granting the money to the Tulip Festival and Festival Franco-Ontarien, a city staff report also makes it clear that they have expectations of the two festivals. First, the festivals need to prove they have reorganized and added strong management talent to their boards. Second, the festivals must develop a long-term sustainability plan and have it monitored by city staff. Fair enough; city hall has to be sure it is responsibly stewarding taxpayers’ monies.
Which brings us back to Ottawa Pride.
“Much like the Tulip Festival and Franco-Ontarien Festival, Pride has done the major structural changes to its governance, ensuring stability and accountability,” Pride chair Darren Fisher tells Capital Xtra readers. “The major stumbling block has been the debt. By issuing a one-time emergency grant, the city would help ensure we can focus on building the festival and recruiting the people and resources necessary for long term stability.”
So, our Pride Committee says they’ve done the financial planning to ensure sustainability. They’ve got short-term yearly costs down to more or less a break-even. But they’re being held back by the $100,000 past debt that hangs over their heads — and endangers the future of the whole celebration.
What to do?
Let’s turn to the Franco-Ontarien festival for a clue. They added some high-powered figureheads with strong business and political experience and connections to their board. It proved to city hall, and the community generally, that they were serious about turning things around.
We need the same for our Pride Festival. It’s time for us to leave behind the negative energy and infighting and those who would keep our Pride festival small just for the sake of keeping it small. We need to get out of this rut of deficits and crises and looming catastrophes. We need to supplement the current board — which has clearly been heading in the right direction — with some high-profile community members with business and political experience and connections.
The good news is Fisher says the board will make room for new blood of this calibre. They want Pride to succeed. We all need Pride to succeed. Imagine not having our single major annual event — we’re closer to that than you may realize.
We all need do our bit. And a special message to those in our community with the business and political experience needed for this next step: the board will welcome you with open arms. Please help.