Toronto Pride met federal test but got nothing

Toronto's 2010 Pride Week festival passed the test for federal stimulus funding before it got passed over.
Toronto's 2010 Pride Week was passed over for federal stimulus funding despite qualifying for the money. ((Johnny Keogh/CBC) )

Toronto's 2010 Pride Week festival passed the test for federal stimulus funding before it got passed over, The Canadian Press has learned.

Federal bureaucrats declared the festival a good candidate for stimulus funding before federal Industry Minister Tony Clement ultimately announced the bid was rejected.

Toronto Pride, the organization that runs the 10-day gay and lesbian festival, was successful a year earlier in scoring a $400,000 grant under the Marquee Tourism Events Program, or MTEP.

For 2010, organizers asked for $630,000 to pay for initiatives that would bring in more high-profile performers, improve facilities, boost marketing and better train volunteers.

A team of civil servants at Industry Canada studied the lengthy application, which included an independent economic impact study.

The study concluded federal help in 2009 increased visitor spending by $6 million, with 200,000 more tourists pouring into Toronto than the year before.

Another 275,000 people were projected to attend if the festival got a second year of funding, bringing total attendance close to 1.5 million.

Industry Canada officials who reviewed event applications were satisfied Toronto Pride week, one of the three largest gay and lesbian events in the world, was a good bet for a second year in a row. The marquee program wanted applicants who would bring in more tourism and also attract international media attention.

"The Tier Advisory Committee had reviewed the proposed project and the Committee is satisfied it meets the eligibility criteria and program objectives of the MTEP," an internal project summary notes.

Toronto Pride appeared in April on a list of a half-dozen Ontario events eligible for money.

The documents were obtained by The Canadian Press under access-to-information legislation.

Toronto Pride staff had no inkling they would not be getting the money before the recipients were announced in May. One bureaucrat wrote to Pride's director of fundraising asking for clarification in February of certain documents, noting things were otherwise, "going great."

But by May 7, a list of recipients was released by the department and Pride Week 2010 was not on it.

Clement told reporters at the time that the decision had nothing to do with the nature of Pride week but rather with the limited number of events being approved for each major Canadian city.

In Toronto last year, only arts festival Luminato, for the second year in a row, and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair received funding — $2.6 million and $1.9 million respectively.

"So really, this is not to denigrate Pride week at all and its impact on the economy of Toronto, but it is also trying to help some other fairs and festivals that aspire to international leadership as well," Clement said last May.

A year earlier, the department's support for Pride week had kicked up a controversy among social conservatives. Some balked at the funding, approved under junior minister Diane Ablonczy.

Responsibility for the program was transferred from Ablonczy to Clement shortly after. One Conservative MP, in an interview with an online publication, attributed the move to the Pride week funding controversy. Clement's office denied there was a connection.

Tracey Sandilands, executive director of Toronto Pride, says she still doesn't understand the rationale for funding the other events over Pride week.

"The fact is it was meant to be an economic stimulus program and our understanding of that was the funds would be allocated in a way that would best stimulate spending and the best return on investment and not that it was a fund that was intended to uplift smaller organizations," Sandilands said.

"We can only assume that there has to be some political reason we didn't get the money."

Toronto Pride abandoned many of its plans for expanding the festival, although the Ontario government helped the organization secure Cyndi Lauper as the headline act on Canada Day weekend.

Sandilands said organizers never received any notice from the government saying their application was rejected, although a letter from Clement to Toronto Pride exists in Industry Canada's files.

The letter does not tell Toronto Pride it was eligible for the funding, but instead states that, "All applications were required to meet the eligibility requirements."

Other top-tier events that received funding in 2009 got money again in 2010, including the Calgary Stampede and Ottawa's Bluesfest. But others, besides Pride week, didn't get money again, including the Calgary Folk Music Festival.

Two Montreal gay events, Black and Blue and Divers/cité, have been turned down for funding, although Divers/cité was told in 2009 that it met all the requirements.

Shortly after Toronto Pride Week received funding in 2009, Industry officials at a meeting wrote that Marquee Tourism "activities are now being scrutinized," according to documents previously released to The Canadian Press.

The Marquee Tourism Events Program, part of the government's stimulus plan, has not been renewed for 2011.