With a motion to strip Pride Toronto (PT) of its city funding likely on the horizon, some city councillors speculate the move would put Mayor Rob Ford on a collision course with Toronto’s gay, lesbian and trans communites.
Ward 33’s Shelley Carroll doesn’t mince words. “The experiences of last year has made it so that everyone’s afraid to even talk about Pride,” she says. “That’s the sad situation that we’re in right now. That whole issue has become so explosive.”
Pride Week is at the top of the list of Toronto’s big summer tourist draws, she says. “Mayor Ford needs that community to be happy with him… Pride and Caribana can’t be ignored at this point, and the mayor will cut their funding at his peril.”
Carroll is also quick to point out that Ford has a “conservative voting bloc” on council who will vote the way he tells them to.
Xtra was unable to catch Ford for a quick chat between meetings, and he declined to comment by phone. Carroll says Ford will likely tell his bloc how to vote on funding.
“There are people on this council now who don’t have the luxury [of a free vote],” she says. “They get a sheet, it tells them how to vote and that’s how they vote. And it seems to get more and more ingrained with each passing council session.”
But she does say there is growing opposition through the ranks of councillors, and occasionally some go rogue.
“There are moments when people who get that sheet, the mayor’s so-called majority, are saying ‘No, I can’t go that far.’ So that’s the game here, from now until 2014, coincidentally when we will be getting ready for World Pride.”
Carroll isn’t alone in her fears. Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam warns that a storm is brewing at city hall with Pride funding at the centre. She echoes Carroll’s warnings and hopes the community will send a strong message to council.
There are about 25 to 30 councillors who have some “”pretty strong beliefs in this regard [Pride],” she says, adding sarcastically, “they’re big fans of the human rights charter.”
Xtra was told the release of the Community Advisory Panel report would trigger discussion at city hall. The province has already announced $400,000 in funding.
On March 21, PT will meet with Rita Davies, the city’s executive director of culture, for an update on the conditions of the grant.
Planning to act fast, Ward 30 Councillor Paula Fletcher says she will counter any motion to defund PT with a motion to defend the festival. She says council needs to embrace Pride Week and celebrate how far the gay community has come.
“The LGBT community is an important part of the diversity of our city,” she says. When speaking about the mayor’s voting record on LGBT issues, she says Ford must represent all of his constituents, “even the ones he might not be that comfortable representing.”
Ward 40 Councillor Norm Kelly, on the other hand, says PT needs to get used to the idea it will face big funding cuts. He says funds will be “taken away completely or reduced significantly for only one reason: we’re going into 2012 with a deficit of $750 million.
“I don’t think this council is anti-anything so much as it is pro-taxpayer. Every group that relies on money from the city is going to have its grant reviewed… All groups will go through a very thorough examination.”
Rookie Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon shakes her head when asked about Pride funding. “I don’t know what’s going to happen about funding, seriously,” she says. “We’re all under tough budget constraints. It’s gonna be tough. Tough to sort out where the funding cuts are going to come from.”
Councillors Sarah Doucette and Gord Perks both express concern in light of Ford’s voting record.
“It’s not like the mayor asks for my opinion,” Perks shrugs. “If anyone tries to bring homophobia onto the floor of city chamber, I am one of the people who will call them on it.”