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Meeting with mayor conflicts with Pride info fair

Last-minute organization leaves community in the dark

A hastily arranged gay town hall meeting with Ottawa’s mayor conflicts with the info fair being held after the Aug 27 Pride Parade.

The meeting nearly didn’t happen at all because the city councillor who organizes it yearly was busy lobbying city councillors and the mayor to bail out the Ottawa-Gatineau Pride Committee. After Pride board members had their appearance before council repeatedly delayed, there wasn’t much time left for Councillor Diane Holmes’ staff to put together the annual meeting between the gay community and Mayor Bob Chiarelli. Chiarelli joined with the majority of council in rejecting the Pride Committee’s request for a $20,000 bailout.

At past years’ events, a distinctly political agenda saw speeches by municipal leaders followed by presentations from prominent members of the queer community. This year’s event, which runs from 3:30-5:30 pm, will instead be an informal gathering in the councillor’s lounge at city hall. All are welcome.

Since the event has not been advertised, some of Ottawa’s most prominent queer community members have been left in the dark – including longtime trans activist Joanne Law, Ottawa Leather Fest organizer Alex Wisniowsk and the staff at Pink Triangle Services.

“What’s the point of having a town hall meeting and not advertising it?” asks PTS staffer Darryl Lim.

Many community members will be too busy that day to attend, says Law. She attended last year’s town hall, but this year will be dividing her time between the Police Liaison Committee, SAGE, Gender Mosaic, and other booths at the Sunday info fair.

“Having it at the same time as the info fair is the wrong time,” says Law.

Unlike most Capital Pride events, the town hall meeting is arranged by a city politician – Holmes – and her staff.

“And that’s what I assumed would happen,” says Chiarelli. “But this year, I’m not sure exactly what the circumstances were, maybe because she was on holidays. When I found out that that wasn’t the case, I asked my staff to organize it.”

But the time that her staff would normally put into organizing the meeting was taken up this year in trying to secure council approval to help Capital Pride, says Holmes.

“Three months of planning go into these town hall meetings,” Holmes says. “We spent a lot of administrative time on the [emergency pride loan proposal] and dealing with councillors and staff.”

When alternate sources of funding were secured, it was too late to plan a full-scale town hall, leaving the mayoral office to arrange a smaller event at “the eleventh hour,” says gay city staffer Christopher Luesby

According to Holmes, if council had approved the emergency Pride funding proposal immediately, “it would have been a different story.”

Some may suspect that the city’s lacklustre financial support for Capital Pride may have left politicians nervous to hear from the community. Holmes doesn’t see it that way.

“It was a matter of timing and resources. The mayor was quite concerned when he learned my office wasn’t’ doing [a town hall meeting],” she says.

The Pride Committee publicly raked the mayor and most city councillors for refusing their emergency funding request after having approved almost identical requests from the Tulip Festival and the Franco-Ontarien festival. But with this year’s Pride festival now underway, they’re taking care not to rain on any politician’s parade.

“I don’t think they’re chickening out,” says board member Marion Steele of the timing of the mayor’s informal town hall. “He’s going to be in the parade this year. The mayor is doing more for Pride Week than he’s ever done.”

The community will get another chance to talk to Chiarelli, along with other mayoralty candidates. The Pride Committee is joining with Egale and Capital Xtra to have a gay town hall mayoralty debate Oct 27.

The Pride Committee had considered holding a second town hall meeting in the fall, but decided to fold it into the mayoralty debate and join with Egale and Capital Xtra.

“Given that it’s an election year, the issues could be a little more spiked than usual,” Chiarelli said of a fall meeting

So far, Alex Munter has agreed to participate in the mayoralty debate, but organizers expect Chiarelli will sign on, given his commitment to a fall meeting with the community.