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[A]nother Tory MP questioned Trost’s interpretation of events.
“My reaction from what I’m hearing is that he’s making most of it up,” said the Conservative, who did not want to be identified.
The MP said it “could be true” that funding came as a shock to the caucus but added that only a handful of members said they might have a problem in their ridings when Ablonczy told them about the funding.
“The prime minister, I’m not sure if he responded at all.”
Meanwhile, CanWest’s David Akin talks to two Conservative MPs brave enough to put their views on the record …
“It’s a tourism event, like any other tourism event,” said Calgary Conservative MP Lee Richardson. “It attracts as many people in Toronto as the Molson Indy.”
Dona Cadman, a first-term Conservative MP from Surrey, B.C., said she supports Ms. Ablonczy’s decision.
“I’m proud to see this reaching out to all sectors of the Canadian mosaic,” Cadman said in an e-mailed message.
“Minister Ablonczy should be congratulated for running an inclusive and responsive portfolio. I do think we need to be open, to consider funding non-core cultural groups, as long as they are not engaging in activity that is offensive to most Canadians. They filled out all the required paperwork properly and were treated the same as any other group.”
… but reveals that the pair seem to be in the minority, as far as willingness to go public with their comments:
More than a dozen Conservative MPs responded to questions from Canwest News Service about Mr. Trost’s criticisms but most either did not want to comment or did not want to be identified. Two MPs, who requested anonymity for fear of being disciplined by the PMO, said the issue was discussed at a closed-door caucus meeting in June and that Ms. Ablonczy was criticized by several MPs about the grant.
Meanwhile, Colleague Wherry points to a CBC.ca story that provides yet another possible explanation: apparently, Ablonczy’s office “wasn’t equipped to handle the $100 million program”. But considering that the deadline to apply for funding under the program was May 8th, it seems just a bit hard to believe that concerns over whether her office had the capacity to manage the program wouldn’t have come up sooner.
Particularly since it was her office that, according to the departmental website, is/was responsible for approving applications, which would likely be the most onerous part of the program.
So, what will this mean for the other pride events that have applied for funding under the program? There are at least two more in the queue, according to the Globe and Mail‘s Steven Chase:
Two other gay pride events have applied for funding from the Marquee program. If Ottawa gives them money, it will anger social conservatives within Tory ranks; if it rejects the applications – even for valid reasons such as failing grant criteria – it will be accused of caving to criticism.
Mr. Cunningham said control over the program – part of Ottawa’s economic stimulus package – shifted to Mr. Clement at some point “two or three weeks” ago. The Industry Minister was busy with efforts such as the auto sector bailout earlier this year, but “we’re better able to handle the workload right now.”
Mr. Cunningham said Mr. Trost’s opinion can’t be dismissed but that ultimately the decision is made based on how best to spur tourism activity.
“I do understand Mr. Trost’s concerns. The concerns that he raises are the concerns of a lot of Canadians. … At the same time, the measure that we look at is tourism,” he said.
At the moment, the application form – which is available by email from Industry Canada – still lists Ablonczy as the responsible minister:
All applications for funding will be approved by the Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism). Applicants will be notified whether their application has been approved or not. Applicants will be required to sign a contribution agreement that outlines in greater detail the conditions under which funding will be provided.
There is also no indication that the administration of the program has changed in recent days — or “two to three weeks” — it’s still the Small Business and Marketplace Services division of Industry Canada in charge of delivery. The MTEP backgrounder states that funding decisions for early summer events “will be made in a timely fashion, given the economic stimulus nature of the program”.
Also what about events that have been approved by Ablonczy, but not yet officially announced? Will Clement have to sign off on Ablonczy’s decisions to date before the cheques can go out? If the organizers had gotten the unofficial thumbs up from the Minister of Small Business, can they count on final approval — and funding — coming through in time for a mid- to late-summer start date?
Considering that opposition members were already griping about the seeming lack of progress in getting money out the door for the summer festival season back in June, it seems utterly bizarre that they’d just decide to switch ministers midway through the program just because Clement’s office has a little more time on its hands. It’s enough to keep ITQ digging away at this story, so check back for updates.
UPDATE: Colleague Wells has much, much more about the trainwreck-in-the-making that is the Marquee Event Funding Program.
MACLEANS.CA COMMENTERS ARE SMARTER THAN ME: Commenter Darrell points us to Pride Toronto’s official statement on this whole federal funding business, which answers just about any pointed question that a sceptical taxpayer might possibly have. (Well, maybe not MYL, but he’s a special case, and he’d be just as aggrieved if it was a parade for orphans and puppies):
Pride Toronto went through the same stringent application process as all other recipients and Industry Canada was extremely thorough in checking details before approval was granted. We are proud of the fact that we were successful when judged objectively against the criteria for the grant. The $397,500 that was awarded to Pride was allocated for specific items such as improved access for disabled people, infrastructure spending and top caliber entertainment. A portion of the funding was directly applied to bringing in a top international artist (Kelly Rowland) for this year’s festival, and this will help raise the bar for future festival entertainment that will increase the appeal to tourists. There is also a post-event reporting process that will focus on how the money was used, in accordance with the criteria for which it was awarded.