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Pride seeks emergency funds

Will city hall treat gay group fairly?

Pride Ottawa is hoping city hall will agree to come to the festival’s financial rescue — to the tune of $42,000.

That’s the sum Pride is asking the city to provide in emergency funding, even though in the past, councillors have been less than generous to the queer celebration.

But this year, Pride faces a financial emergency. And just as the Tulip Festival and the Franco-Ontarien Festival did earlier this year, it’s going back to city hall asking for emergency funding to ensure their survival. City hall gave the Tulip Festival a $75,000 emergency grant and the Franco-Ontarien Festival $50,000.

Based on the emergency funding granted to those festivals, Pride expects that city politicians will understand that giving money to the important gay festival is an investment in the larger Ottawa community.

“Pride is not only just a party,” says Pride chair Darren Fisher. “It’s also a focal point for most of our community organizations in terms of fundraising and raising awareness. It’s as much for the health of the community and our community organisations as it is a celebration for the things that we’ve achieved.”

Pride is prepared for tough questions, and they have a financial plan to present, which asks the city to provide services instead of upfront money.

“We’ve asked for $42,000, which includes $15,000 to cancel our outstanding debt for services they gave before,” says Pride treasurer Gordon Boissonneault. “The remainder of about $25,000 we’ve spelled out in the budget for things that the city could defray, via in-kind services so it doesn’t have to be cash.

“This is where we thought they could come in and help us with specific things like security, site rental, all of the things that the city is charging us back for. If they could give us a break, then we could respect our [other] creditors and pay them back according to the terms of the restructuring.”

The breakdown also includes a request for money to help Pride with auditing its books.

Pride’s books haven’t been audited since 2001. At that point, they had roughly $30,000 in the bank, but moving the festival to Bank Street put them in debt. With very few board records of where the money went, it would have meant a very expensive audit that they couldn’t afford. Over the next three years, Pride’s mounting debt meant the books continued to go unaudited.

It wasn’t until 2005 that the festival’s deficit was a fraction of years previous. The accumulated deficit now stands around $120,000.

But while Pride executives are hopeful this time, city hall has consistently underfunded the festival in the past.

Even this year, for example, on the advice of city staff, Pride asked for a $3,000 arts and culture grant.

They received $1,000. And even this sum was immediately clawed back by city hall and put toward Pride’s outstanding debt to the city.

At fault is the way that the city has set up its grants program, says Fisher. The annual Pride festival is really three festivals in one: a queer arts and culture festival, a human rights celebration and the city’s largest annual parade. But city hall arts grants would only go to cover costs directly associated with performers, notes Fisher. The rest of the festival’s logistical costs don’t qualify.

“Not only that, but Pride has never received more than $5,000, no matter what has been applied for,” vice-chair Tamara Stammis adds. “We didn’t want to be written off completely by sending in an unreasonable request, and we were advised to submit around $3,000.”

The total pot for arts and culture grants given by the city amounts to $600,000, and the Chamber Music Festival is automatically granted $100,000 of that. All other festivals must fight for the remaining amount.

Still, Pride will be expected to write a report to account for the $1,000 grant that they won’t actually get.

“I’m not quite sure how they expect us to justify the thousand dollars to pay for our arts and culture when they took it back to pay for a festival that happened two years ago,” says Fisher. “The policy is a little contradictory in itself, so I think there’s a disconnect between what their policy is on the staff level, and what the politicians on council believe it is. I think there’s some education that needs to happen there as well.”

A 2005 Capital Xtra investigative report found Ottawa is underfunding Pride. While Pride receives an average of less than $3,000 annually from city hall, in 2004 the city gave $44,000 to the Ottawa Bluesfest, $72,000 to the Ottawa International Jazz Festival, $35,000 to the Ottawa Folk Festival and $6,000 to the Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival.

Other cities fund their Prides better on a yearly basis. In 2004, Divers/Cité received $25,000 in funding from the city of Montreal, $100,000 from the Quebec tourism ministry and $100,000 from Economic Development Canada.

Toronto Pride receives $15,000 from the Toronto Arts Council, and in 2005 got $100,000 from the city’s economic development and culture division.

Fisher says Pride Ottawa is also turning to the queer community for sponsorship and fundraising to ensure the 20th anniversary of Pride is celebrated this August.