With the recent cuts made to arts and culture by the Conservative government, some groups — like the Black and Blue Festival in Montreal — would like to remind voters that the cuts began as soon as the Tories came to power in 2006.
“Ever since the Harper government has been in power, all of our funding from the federal government has been cut,” says Robert Vezina, president of Bad Boys Club Montreal (BBCM), which puts on the festival.
The non-profit, volunteer-run BBCM used to receive approximately $50,000 each year for the festival, which raises funds for gay community groups and generates millions in economic spin-off for Montreal. Funding came from different departments, including Canadian Heritage and Economic Development Canada.
“Ever since the Harper government was in power, we’ve got zero,” Vezina says. “The reasons are really nebulous — they’re really sneaky. They give us answers that contradict themselves from year to year, and then verbally, they tell us on the phone we’re not ‘family oriented enough,’ and then of course when we ask them to put this in writing they don’t.”
Just what do they put in writing?
“‘You no longer fit in with our criteria,'” Vezina recites. “And it’s not just criteria — they say ‘criteria and priorities,’ and that is a really wide-ranging excuse, and you can refuse anybody based on that.”
When a renewed sponsorship program was made available from Canadian Heritage this year, BBCM met with department officials in advance to determine that criteria was met.
“They said that we fit with the criteria,” Vezina said. “And then when we got the negative answer, they said that we’re not a priority for them. And then when I called them, they said that in reality, you’re not really attracting a large public and you’re not family oriented, and I told them on the phone, ‘when did this come from? We never discussed this when we met you before we filled out the form and it’s nowhere indicated on your form that the events have to be family oriented, and what does that mean?’ I was so angry with them.”
Indeed, when Capital Xtra contacted Canadian Heritage about the funding cuts, the response from the spokesperson was that Black and Blue “doesn’t meet the mandate of building communities through arts and heritage.”
When challenged that the festival had met with department officials before submitting their application, they responded, “Once analyzed, the program found that their mandate hasn’t met with eligibility criteria.”
This doesn’t surprise Ottawa-Vanier incumbent, Liberal Mauril Bélanger.
“I think we’ve seen the ideologically-driven cuts from this government,” says Bélanger. “Even [Finance Minister] Flaherty acknowledged that the cuts to cultural programs that they did in August were political decisions.”
“I think we’ve seen that time and again from this government — ideology trumps objectivity, trumps respect, trumps treating all of us equally,” adds Bélanger, who was deputy chair of the Canadian Heritage committee in the last Parliament.
“[This is] a government that makes decisions by ideology that is basically targetting some segments of our population unfairly, and that is not the country I know.”
As for Black and Blue, the missing funds impact their ability to advertize abroad, especially in the United States. While the Québec government is generous and allows them to keep up the promotion, Vezina says that the loss of funds is still hurting their books.
Vezina also warns that the comments by the government about their increasing festival funding for Montreal is at best a half-truth.
“All the funding went to Just For Laughs and the Jazz Festival,” he says. “Everyone else didn’t get augmentation or were cut. They gave [to] the festivals that attracted the most families — big deal.”