The director of one of Canada’s premier gay and lesbian festivals sprang to the defence of the Conservative government Wednesday, saying she has received even more stable support since the Tories took power.
Suzanne Girard, director of Montreal’s Divers-Cite artistic festival, blamed right-wing fringe elements for unfairly trying to embarrass the Conservatives and cause problems for events like hers.
Tory MP Brad Trost recently told a website promoting socially conservative values that “almost the entire Conservative caucus” and the Prime Minister’s Office were caught off guard when Toronto’s gay pride week received $400,000 in funding over two years under a new program for major tourism events.
He suggested that junior tourism minister Diane Ablonczy had been stripped of the funding envelope because of the grant. The government denies that.
Another member of the Conservative caucus said under condition of anonymity that Trost and four other MPs who criticized the grant at a weekly meeting last month were barely acknowledged.
Girard says she has received money from the federal government’s Economic Development Corp. for the last decade. And this year the Conservative government committed to two years of funding – providing her with more budget stability.
She has also received minor funding from Canadian Heritage for the 17-year-old festival that features gay musicians, dancers and theatrical performers. Divers-Cite brings in $10 million in tourism dollars.
“Personally as an organization, we have been treated very fairly and on an even footing with everybody else,” Girard said in an interview.
“We’ve had to work hard, but like everybody else. We live in a great country in that we can do this, even if it is a Conservative government.”
Divers-Cite was among a coalition of other high-profile festivals that successfully lobbied the Conservatives to bring in the new Marquee Tourism Events Program.
The $100-million program was announced in the last budget as an economic stimulus tool, and Industry Canada has been frantically trying to get money out the door this summer – a “miracle” to get off the ground, Girard says.
Now Divers-Cite and others are anxiously awaiting word of whether they’ll qualify. A festival in Mont-Tremblant, Que., just received word this week they’ll receive funding, even though activities began two weeks ago.
“I just hope this controversy just doesn’t block everything for the whole program, because it could,” Girard said. “It could do exactly what the right wing does, which is block the whole thing and it stops.”
Canada Family Action, a socially conservative advocacy group, said Wednesday it was disturbed taxpayers’ money was used to fund Toronto Pride. It said Toronto police should have laid charges against individuals who paraded nude at the event.
“Is there a clause in the Marquee Tourism Events Program funding policy that now allows government to seek a return of tax dollars when they are used by an organization’s event where criminal activity occurs publicly?” Brian Rushfeldt, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.
While Girard rejects the notion of homophobia in government funding practices, another major festival organizer is more critical.
Richard Vezina of Montreal’s Black and Blue festival, touted as the biggest gay and lesbian event of its kind in the world, says he has been the victim of the social conservatism in the Conservative government.
In 2006, funding that had been earmarked for the festival by bureaucrats was taken away a week before the event in a decision by then transport minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn, responsible for the Economic Development Corp. at the time.
Blackburn denies the decision had anything to do with the nature of the festival, but Vezina doesn’t believe him.
His party-type festival is also waiting to find out whether it will receive Marquee funding.
“Since the Harper government has been in power we haven’t received one cent,” said Vezina.
“We applied under several programs, and we were refused everywhere.”
Vezina sent Industry Canada a letter asking whether the Ablonczy matter would “impact the objective analysis” of his application.
“Might it be a gay dollar or not a gay dollar, a dollar’s a dollar for the economy of Canada, that’s what people should understand.”