$15M cut to Trillium Foundation worries non-profits

The Ontario government has reduced the Trillium Foundation's base budget by $15 million, and non-profit organizations hope the upcoming provincial budget doesn't bring further cuts to the granting agency.

Local organizations praise provincial agency for helping them get new ideas off the ground

The Ottawa Riverkeeper's Meaghan Murphy (left) trains volunteer 'riverwatchers' Wendy Ryan and Howard Powles, with help from Water Ranger app developer Kat Kavanagh, right. The organization has used Trillium Foundation grants for its riverwatcher program. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The provincial government has reduced the Ontario Trillium Foundation's base funding by $15 million, and non-profit organizations hope the upcoming Ontario budget doesn't bring further cuts to the granting agency.

Hundreds of organizations across the province have received grants over the years to implement projects in their communities, explained Cathy Taylor, executive director of the Ontario Nonprofit Network, which advocates on behalf of the province's nearly 60,000 non-profits.

In the most recent round of grants, Trillium money is helping Ausome Canada expand its recreation programs for children with autism, and allowing the Ottawa's Youville Centre to provide parenting programs for teen mothers.

Ontario Trillium Foundation moneys are not giveaways. This is not charity money.- JP Melville, consultant

"They're already oversubscribed and cannot meet the needs of the communities, so we certainly had been looking for an investment in the Trillium Foundation," said Taylor.

Instead, she learned the Progressive Conservative government had reduced Trillium Foundation's base budget from $115 million to $100 million for the current fiscal year.

"Unfortunately, the previous Liberal government's wasteful and irresponsible handling of the province's finances left us with a $15-billion deficit, which has forced us to make tough decisions," wrote Brett Weltman, press secretary to Ontario's minister of tourism, culture and sport, Michael Tibollo.

He said the PC government remains committed to supporting Ontario communities.

Consultant JP Melville has helped local groups including Jaku Konbit, Bronson Centre and Abbeyfield House apply for Trillium Foundation grants. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Praise for foundation

Trillium grants had been a relatively stable and dependable funding source, even if the overall budget hadn't grown much since the late 1990s, ​Taylor said.

Still, the Ford government's cut isn't the only volatility the foundation has experienced in recent years. Trillium financial statements show the Liberals cut its base funding to $90 million in 2016-17, but returned it to $115 million the following year.

JP Melville wonders if this latest cut will mean a new stream of funding that was supposed to launch last fall and was intended for broad, provincial projects, might never get off the ground.

The consultant has helped many Ottawa arts and community groups file applications for Trillium grants over the years, and while he believes in fiscal prudence, he said the grants also have tremendous spin-off effects.

"Ontario Trillium Foundation moneys are not giveaways. This is not charity money. This is investing in ideas, creativity, young people, old people, everybody in Ontario," said Melville.

Volunteer network

At Ottawa Riverkeeper, executive director Patrick Nadeau agrees that Trillium grants allow organizations like his to learn new skills and grow the work they do.

A Trillium grant has allowed it to create a network of volunteers throughout the Ottawa River watershed who do water testing, he said.

Taylor has her eye on the provincial budget to be tabled in the coming months.

"Organizations are certainly anticipating that there may be other changes in government funding in the next provincial funding and if that were layered on top of this, it would be a very difficult operating environment for the sector."