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Money by May or Ottawa Pride is cancelled

New chair gives 'wake-up' call to community

WAKE-UP CALL. Marion Steele is stepping down as Pride chair to concentrate on lobbying City Hall on behalf of the board. Credit: (Shawn Scallen)

“If Pride 2006 isn’t paid for by the end of April, it’s getting postponed.” With these words, Pride Ottawa cochair Darren Fisher laid out the challenge to Ottawa’s queer community.

“We need help — this is a wake-up call,” said Fisher at the Oct 11 Ottawa-Gatineau Pride Committee annual meeting. “Pride is not guaranteed. If the community wants it, they need to support us, they need to encourage people to volunteer with us and we need to take responsibility for the festival that we want to have in this city.”

Added departing chair Marion Steele: “We need fundraising talent, we need sponsorship talent, we need marketing people on board. We need people who are willing to go out and meet and greet and get the word out there.”

The desperate financial situation of an organization that now owes approximately $130,000, including a deficit from this year’s Pride of at least $11,000 — and which borrowed $14,000 from its board and committee members in advance of the 2005 festival — clearly weighed on the membership at the meeting.

Attendees heard that to avoid a deficit next year, the Pride committee is determined to cover costs for the 2006 festival before the event occurs. The board will require that $60,000 in sponsorship be in place before the end of April, so that up-front costs can be paid out of the sponsorship money.

Sponsorship packages have already been prepared, and Pride will place greater emphasis on attracting mainstream sponsors.

But despite the gloomy financial news, an injection of skilled new board members — and an election for board positions — helped finish the meeting on a note of optimism.

And this year’s meeting was civil in comparison to last year’s cage match. Shouting matches were kept to a minimum, as were the number of personal attacks.

Steele listed some of the difficulties the board faced this year after starting late in January. Trying to makes sense of the books — including sorting through scraps of paper and dealing with wary, and sometimes angry, creditors — and lining up sponsorships took until the end of April.

“This year we spent most of our energy trying to deal with the past,” Fisher added.

On Apr 22, City Hall okayed use of the Festival Plaza site, leaving the committee just four months to organize the festival for Aug 28. Even so, the festival drew more mainstream sponsors than ever before, the parade had the most entries ever — at 62 — and 52 vendor and information tables graced the Info Fair. The committee claims 28,000 participants over the week.

At the end of her address, Steele turned to the community for help. “There’s a few things we need — we need community support. On Pride Day itself we had signs up, we asked people to help keep Pride free. If 28,000 people had each given a toonie we wouldn’t be where we are now financially. That didn’t happen.”

Pride Day donations totalled a mere $1,800, with beer revenues only around $5,000 once expenses were deducted.

This year’s festival will add to the accumulated debt, the meeting heard. While firm numbers were unavailable for the meeting because the committee lacked a treasurer, the executive provided a best-estimate balance sheet. Pride received $13,575 in cash sponsorship and another $35,300 of in-kind sponsorship this year.

ToBe magazine provided a $5,000 in-kind sponsorship. But a written sponsorship report presented to the AGM noted, “Although the owners/operators of ToBe Magazine provided ad space, the magazine was unreliable and inconsistent in coverage of Pride events, demanded control over Pride’s communications with its membership and the community and threatened to pull their sponsorship when third party fundraising events did not purchase advertisements from their magazine.”

In the weeks since the AGM, most of the receivables have been collected, except for payment for some of the advertisements in the Pride Guide totalling a few hundred dollars.

The 2005 deficit now stands at an estimated $11,000.

Pride’s board of directors plus several coordinators are also on the creditors list, after they loaned their own funds to cover up-front expenses — including City Hall’s demands for down payments. Fisher hopes that the fundraising committee will have the remaining 2005 deficit eliminated by February, allowing them to begin tackling the accumulated debt.

Steele noted that a forensic auditor had volunteered to examine the last several years of accounting records.

In resigning the chair, Steele said she would like to remain on the board and accept responsibility for lobbying the city to increase grants or eliminate charges for the festival. While city hall was supposed to waive most 2005 festival fees for Pride, some fees remained, such as those for vendor’s permits.

Deb Beauregard, outgoing senior coordinator of special events for the city, stopped by the meeting to explain some of the reasons why. For one, costs were increased by the city across the board, and a new city policy put into place this year dictated cost recovery, a move which hit all festivals without warning. As well, because all city departments act separately, there was no coordination between them as to which departments were charging fees and which were waiving them.

Beauregard wants Pride to join together with others in the Festival Network to lobby the city for necessary help. One major outstanding issue is the cost of insurance — city council last year discussed putting festivals under an umbrella policy, but failed to implement it.

Under questioning from Pride members, Beauregard suggested arguing the economic benefits of Pride will have little positive impact at city hall. Businesses pay their taxes to city hall regardless of how many customers they have, she said. But staff and council may be swayed by noting the quality of life benefits that festivals bring Ottawa residents.

The Pride board has already turned its attention to the 2006 festival. It will be at the end of August, making Pride Ottawa the last major Canadian Pride of the season — and attracting tourists, board members hope.