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Minister punished for funding Pride: Tory MP

Ablonczy's decision 'surprised' caucus & PMO, says Brad Trost

'A VERY ISOLATED DECISION.' Conservative MP Brad Trost says the decision to fund Pride was "not supported... by a large majority of the MPs" in the Tory caucus. He reassures his pro-family supporters that funding Pride is "not government policy." Credit: Nicola Betts photo

Minister of State for Tourism Diane Ablonczy is no longer responsible for a key tourism stimulus program, and a Tory MP suggests it is because she signed off on funding for Pride Toronto.

Conservative MP Brad Trost told the rightwing website LifeSiteNews.com that Ablonczy’s decision to give Pride Toronto $400,000 came as a shock to most of the Conservative caucus and even the Prime Minister’s Office.

“The pro-life and the pro-family community should know and understand that the tourism funding money that went to the gay pride parade in Toronto was not government policy, was not supported by — I think it’s safe to say by a large majority — of the MPs,” says Trost. “This was a very isolated decision.”

The funds were part of the Marquee Tourism Events Program (MTEP), a $100-million stimulus program that will fund major festivals and events that draw visitors to Canada. Other events that received money from the program include the Calgary Stampede, the Toronto International Film Festival and the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. Ablonczy made the Pride Toronto funding announcement on Jun 15.

“Today’s funding announcement will not only benefit the festival but also the thousands of local businesses that provide services to event attendees,” Ablonczy said in the press release last month. “The Government of Canada is proud to show its commitment to the tourism industry, particularly during this difficult economic period.”

Trost hinted to LifeSiteNews that Ablonczy had lost the file as a result, attributing the decision to fund Pride Toronto as “sloppiness.” Ablonczy remains the minister of state for tourism, but in recent weeks other cabinet ministers and MPs have made MTEP announcements in her stead. Industry Minister Tony Clement told CanWest that Ablonczy remains in her portfolio, but it was later confirmed that Ablonczy was no longer responsible for the Marquee Tourism Events Program.

That responsibility has been handed to Clement, ostensibly because his summer workload means he has more time to make announcements, and that Ablonczy’s office was not equipped to handle the $100-million program. Clement’s office says the shifting of responsibilities has nothing to do with money being given to Pride Toronto.

Social conservatives such as the Campaign Life Coalition and the president of the Canada Christian College, Charles McVety, have denounced the government’s decision to fund Pride Toronto.

Ablonczy was reputed to be one of the more socially conservative members of the caucus, her name appearing on lists of anti-abortion supporters. She also once served as special assistant to Reform Party leader Preston Manning.

Other political parties were quick to denounce Trost’s comments.

“At a time when tourism numbers are down across Canada, the real question is whether Conservative homophobia, prejudice and censorship will mean no funding for these important events in the future,” says gay Liberal MP Scott Brison. “There’s a very good reason why the Conservative Party dropped the moniker of ‘Progressive,’ and keep in mind that a few years ago in the Progressive Conservative party, Joe Clark was the parade marshal of the Calgary Gay Pride parade.”

Brison was a member of the Progressive Conservative caucus under Joe Clark, but he crossed the floor to become a Liberal after the Progressive Conservative and Reform/Alliance parties merged.

“This just underlines the difference between the former Progressive Conservative party and the new regressive Conservative party,” Brison says.

“Diane Ablonczy made a good decision,” says lesbian NDP MP Libby Davies. “To provide funds to a major festival in Canada, the Toronto Pride festival, and to the fact that the Conservative backbench MPs are now squawking about it, to me is just further evidence of their completely narrow-minded agenda.”

Davies is also disturbed by talk that Ablonczy was removed from the MTEP file, possibly for the Pride Toronto funding. “That’s pretty outrageous, and I think that Stephen Harper needs to say something. Does he support that? If he does, I find that completely unacceptable, because as far as I can tell, she was doing her job.”

Both Divers/cité and the Black & Blue festivals in Montreal have applied for MTEP funds, though neither have heard back regarding their requests. Vancouver Pride was not eligible, as their festival was considered too small.

Divers/cité didn’t apply for as much as Toronto Pride, says festival director Suzanne Girard, and she remains optimistic about their chances.

Robert Vezina, who organizes the Black & Blue festival, remains cautious, considering that his festival has not received any funding since the Conservatives came to power, despite getting funding from the previous Liberal government.

“Every time that the civil servants approve funding, it still has to be signed by the minister, so he has the authority to reverse the decision by the civil servants, and that’s exactly what the Conservative minister did to us,” Vezina says.

“We’ve requested $125,000, and we really need it this year, so I hope it comes through.”

Some may take heart that the government funded Pride Toronto after previously denying funds to festivals like Black & Blue. But others note the Tories are still going out of their way to appease their social conservative supporters.

“To fund something and then make excuses for the funding of it, and be apologetic for it, would seem to be a pyrrhic victory for the community,” Brison says.