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NPA candidate wants civic event status for Pride

But NPA did nothing while in power: Stevenson

"We are already doing this for profit events and Pride is the second largest event in the city," says NPA council candidate Sean Bickerton, who is gay. Credit: seanbickerton.com

If elected to city council, the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) will make the Pride parade a civic event, promises gay NPA council candidate Sean Bickerton.

“If elected, there is no question that we’ll implement this immediately, and we’d use the funds in the Car Free days budget to cover the costs of Pride, the Chinese New Year parade and the Vaisakhi parade,” he says. “We’d call for those three events to be designated that way. And we’ll look at other major events for the city and look at a standard policy that covers all.”

Civic event designation means the city would assume greater responsibility for the costs of street closures, policing and cleanup after the parade. Only the Celebration of Light and the Grey Cup Festival have the designation now.

“The Pride parade has a number of major challenges to put that event on every year,” Bickerton says. “They reconstitute volunteers every year, it’s non-profit and just the logistics of producing an event that extensive is daunting. We are already doing this for profit events, and Pride is the second-largest event in the city, the second-largest parade in Western Canada, one of the largest Pride events in Canada and the world.”

Bickerton says the NPA would not only grant civic designation to the Pride parade but create a process by which other parades and festivals can apply for the designation as well.

“What we’re moving to is developing a process where we can evaluate these civic events, huge generators for civic events to this city,” he says. “The Vaisakhi parade is the largest outside India. We also have the Chinese New Year parade, and both attract more than 50,000 people every year.”

Civic status would save the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) at least $40,000 per year, according to VPS president Ken Coolen.

“At present, the bill we get from city for policing costs, sanitation, traffic and all the different things for all of our events equals just over $50,000,” he says. “Now we receive two grants from the city: a cash grant of $10,000 and the other is a service grant for $10,000 as well. So the reality is we do get something from city. But $35,000 to $40,000 in savings would equal a full-time staff person in our office.”

During his five years on the VPS board, Coolen says, Pride has evolved from a festival that was run entirely by volunteers, with the aid of one contractor, to an organization with three staff people and two summer-student positions.

“We needed that infrastructure,” he says. “The savings of not having to pay that police bill would allow us to continue to build that staff infrastructure, which would allow the society to grow and do more things.”

Gay Vision Vancouver Councillor Tim Stevenson says that if the city supports Pride, it would be obliged to grant civic designation to other parades, too, creating greater financial strain.

“The concern is and always has been that if Pride gets civic designation, which I am personally in favour of, then we are going to have to ensure a whole number of other parades get treated fairly and equitably, that we don’t discriminate against anyone,” he says.

He also notes the financial considerations. If Pride were to be given civic designation, he says, the city would either have to raise taxes or take money from another organization.

“The issue is if we go ahead on that, we are obviously going to have to make this very broad arrangement, and where does that fall into the budget? There is no room for that in the budget, no wiggle room. The budget is pared down enormously to keep taxes down.”

Stevenson notes that while Pride brings in a “tremendous amount of money,” none of it goes to the city.

“The only government who does get money is the provincial government, through sales taxes,” says Stevenson, who was a provincial cabinet minister in the early 2000s. “I would really love if we could go to the province and say, ‘You’re getting this many millions of dollars, how about you pay for the services and police,’ but you wouldn’t get the province doing that no matter what.”

Stevenson is surprised by Bickerton’s sudden announcement. He says the NPA did very little for the gay community during its time in power in city hall.

“When they have been elected, far from creating things, they have cut out events. Now they come along and say they want to do something and help out the gay community. That is good news. They had a complete change of heart in the last little while; we haven’t heard anything this whole term about this. It’s ironic that it’s just before Pride parade and election, maybe just coincidence. But over the years they’ve done nothing.”

When Xtra asked Bickerton why the NPA did not grant Pride a civic designation during its previous terms in power, he said, “They probably didn’t want to open up a hornet’s nest of various groups applying.”

He notes this is the first time the NPA is proposing the designation as campaign policy. “If we get in, we will implement it,” he promises.

NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton says she supports the idea.

Pride is a lot of fun and shows off the diversity of the city in “all its glory,” she says, adding that the significant cultural and economic impact of the festival justifies civic designation.

“What Sean proposes, and what I agree with, is that we should look and see if more events fit in that heading. Not to say we pay the whole bill, but cover things like policing and sanitation.”

Anton says that an NPA administration would accomplish this without raising taxes. “People are very sensitive to tax money, and they don’t want to pay more taxes,” she says. “It would be my goal to make that happen in the existing budget.”

She says it is too early to tell where that money may come from, but that it would not necessarily be a cut from another program or service. “It may not be a cut, but what I would like to do is look at where our celebration money is and look at all the grants we give.”

Asked why her party did not grant Pride civic status in its previous terms in power, Anton says, “I have no answer to that question. What we have now is a new team, new people. For Sean, this was his passion, and he sold the rest of us on the idea, and I’m quite happy.”