News
4 min

Pride forfeits loan

Changed Pride Parade route finalized

Under Marion Steele's leadership Pride has a veneer of freshness, but financial problems remain. Credit: (Shawn Scallen)

First the good news. There will be a Pride Parade in Ottawa after all. But the bad news is that Pride has defaulted on a $50,000 loan, forcing city hall to pick up the cost.

The Pride parade on Aug 28 will follow a changed route this year, beginning at Old Wellington Street, at the Garden Of The Provinces (across from the National Library And Archives), moving west to east on Wellington, turning south at Elgin, then cutting east at Laurier Ave and ending at city hall’s Festival Plaza.

The parade will pass many historical buildings, including the Supreme Court and Parliament, perhaps an appropriate route for the summer following the debate over the same-sex civic marriage law. The parade will also avoid the on-going summer construction on Rideau St. In recent years, the parade started in front of city hall, went the opposite direction on Wellington and turned south at Bank Street, ending with a street party.

“It’s nice to have it finally set,” says Pride vice-chair Darren Fisher. “I feel much better now. We can finally make it real for the public.”

The route was hammered out at a long meeting involving the Pride Committee, city staff, Ottawa police, emergency services and OC Transpo. The meeting was held just days after the Pride Committee defaulted on its loan, forcing city hall, as the loan guarantor, to pick it up.

Pride chair Marion Steele chose not to comment on the matter to Ottawa’s gay community, instead referring questions to Fisher. At first evasive, Fisher eventually fessed up after being told that city hall was talking about the default.

“We’re not quite sure how all of this happened,” says Fisher. “We got a form letter that gave us five days to pay it all back – but by the time we opened our mail, [the deadline] had passed.”

Pride was negotiating the guaranteed loan, a $50,000 slice of its $120,000 debt, with the Toronto Dominion Bank, and had already sent a proposal to the Toronto branch when the letter demanding repayment arrived in early June.

“Obviously, some wires got crossed,” says Fisher. “Someone in Toronto said ‘No.'”

The city is now Pride’s largest creditor, carrying the $50,000 debt instead of the bank, and has added the $50,000 debt to the $10,000 that Pride already owed city hall from previous years of poor fundraising and management problems. Forfeiting the loan means that half of Pride’s total debt, or $60,000, is now owed to the city, while the remainder is owed to other creditors, including businesses and artists.

City treasurer Lloyd Russell laughs knowingly when asked what he thinks about the loan forfeit.

“Obviously, it’s a lot better if it doesn’t [happen]. I guess the financial institution that they were borrowing from felt they were not meeting the terms of repayment. So they simply went to us as the guarantor. The letter was called a short time ago when [the Pride Committee] defaulted.”

As the guarantor, it’s the same for the city as if they had borrowed the money themselves. Now they are dealing directly with Pride to settle the debt.

One way to reduce Pride costs is to convince the city to not charge for services such as road closures this year, which could mean saving about $10,000.

“I don’t deal directly with [service fees],” says Russell, “but it’s certainly not our policy to do that.”

The Jun 16 issue of Capital Xtra detailed discrimination by Ottawa city hall in direct grants to the Pride festival. Ottawa’s Pride has never received funds greater than the $4,000 it was granted in 2002. In contrast, other festivals received large grants in 2004 – $75,900 for the Canadian Tulip Festival, $44,000 to Bluesfest, $72,000 for the jazz festival, $35,000 to the folk festival. As well, other cities provide much larger grants to their Pride festivals – $25,000 in Montreal, $100,000 in Toronto (plus no charge for city services), for example.

Councillor Diane Holmes of Ward 14-Somerset says she would “absolutely” line up the queer community to back her up on a proposal to re-jig finances to cut Pride costs.

“City hall is insulting the gay community by talking about how wonderful and diverse the community is,” says Holmes, “and at the same time handing them a big bill for putting on a parade.”

Some critics may suggest that the $50,000 loan could be the first of the city’s large annual donations to Pride. For her part, Holmes says she will try to assess the ramifications of this new financial situation within the bureaucracy, and would see about more funding for Pride in the future.

Fisher believes that Pride’s now “much more invested partner,” the city, is in a position to defer Pride’s payments, lower their interest rate or not charge interest at all. Pride will meet with the city shortly to figure out what comes next. Fisher says the meeting could be good or bad, depending on how much interest the city wants to charge.

Fisher says that the loan guarantee is one of the details that got lost in the shuffle as the Pride Committee struggled to organize the festival. Nonetheless, they and the city are still working together.

“We met [the city] well after this to do the site,” says Fisher, “so the city’s still willing to work with us. Everything’s working along. The city’s acting as a great partner.”

Russell, the city’s treasurer, knows that negotiating repayment of the loan will take time.

“There’s certainly commitment on the part of the committee,” he says, although he declined to discuss specifics. “I certainly can’t say anything negative about it. They’re dealing with it, and that’s certainly positive from our viewpoint.

“I think it’s fair to say we recognize this is not a short-term issue for them,” Russell adds with another knowing laugh.

Meanwhile, planning for this year’s event continues. Fisher worries that some queers and business people think that last weekend’s Bankfest street party was the Pride celebration. Bankfest attracted many businesses formerly associated with Ottawa Pride.

“There was so much disinformation out there and so many rumours,” says Fisher.

Pride will also have to contend with The Rolling Stones playing in Lansdowne Park at the Central Canadian Exhibition the same day as the Pride parade.