Minister of State for Tourism Diane Ablonczy is no longer responsible for the delivery of a key tourism stimulus package, and one of her caucus colleagues says it's because her office gave some of the money to a gay pride parade.
Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost, a fellow Conservative, told the anti-abortion website LifeSiteNews that Ablonczy was being punished for the decision to give $400,000 from the Marquee Tourism Events Program to Toronto's Pride Parade, which was held this year on June 28.
Trost was quoted as calling it "a very isolated decision" that was not supported "by a large majority of the MPs."
Recent federal funding history for Toronto Pride Week:
- 2008 – $35,000 through the Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage Program.
- 2007 – $35,000 through the Arts Presentation Canada Program.
- 2006 – $35,000 through the Arts Presentation Canada Program.
Source: Department of Canadian Heritage
Trost was not immediately available for comment to CBC News. But Darren Cunningham, the director of communications for Industry Minister Tony Clement, says Ablonczy didn't lose control over the Marquee Tourism Events Program because of her department's decision to fund Toronto's Pride Parade with federal dollars.
"It was not in response to that, no," said Cunningham.
Instead, Cunningham said Ablonczy's office wasn't as well staffed as Clement's to handle the $100-million program while also trying to complete a Federal Tourism Growth Strategy.
Cunningham confirmed that the program is being reviewed, but he said that also had nothing to do with the Toronto parade and was simply a matter of good government practice.
Music festivals among events funded
The Marquee Tourism Events Program has sprinkled money across the country for jazz concerts, blues festivals and other events. In Ottawa, some of the money was put toward a free jazz concert and $1.5 million will go to the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest.
The funding program was introduced as a component of the 2009 federal budget. A description of its intention on the program's website reads in part: "By the summer of 2009, Industry Canada will provide initial funding to marquee events that significantly promote tourism, in time to respond to the many events that bring tourists to Canada during the summer vacation period."
Toronto's Pride Week attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. Hundreds of thousands more either turn out or tune in on television to watch the free-wheeling parade that is the week's centrepiece.
Clement now has time to handle file: staffer
In an email, Rob Taylor, Ablonczy's chief of staff, said that budget was returned to Industry Canada so that the MP from Calgary-Nose Hill and her staff could concentrate on the federal tourism strategy.
He added that the minister handling Industry Canada is also freer to handle the file now.
"The MTEP program is back with Minister Clement now that the auto file and many of the other economic stimulus programs have calmed down. He is the responsible minister and is reviewing all economic-stimulus spending."
Tracey Sandilands, the executive director of Pride Toronto, said in an email that festival organizers were pleased to have received money.
"The application process was quite stringent and ... Industry Canada were extremely thorough in checking details before final approval was granted," she wrote. "It wasn't something done in an ad hoc way at all."
She declined to comment on any political controversy swirling around Ablonczy and her caucus colleagues.
Gay rights group calls matter 'shocking'
Helen Kennedy, the executive director of the gay rights group Egale, called the incident "shocking."
She pointed out that the money was used to increase accessibility for people with disabilities who wanted to enjoy the parade, and also helped improve the quality of live entertainment at the 10-day festival.
"This minister, instead of being applauded for injecting much-needed cash into the local economy here in Toronto, is being penalized and punished," she told CBC News.
She said Trost's comments may point to an anti-gay bias.
"I would ask, is he in fact, homophobic?… Why is it troubling to him that $400,000 is being used by Pride Toronto to improve access for people with disabilities? Did he in fact make the same comments about $2 million going into the Calgary Stampede?"