Ablonczy/Pride: And in the second least surprising political news of the day …

Canadian Press reveals that, as widely suspected if tersely denied, Industry Minister Tony Clement may, indeed, have dethroned erstwhile marquee event program czarina Diane Ablonczy just days after her decision to fund Pride Toronto raised the ire of Charles McVety’s anti-sex parade brigade:

.[...]Darren Cunningham, Clement’s spokesman, said at the time that the program was simply entering a second phase that would be managed by the senior minister.

But documents obtained by The Canadian Press under Access to Information legislation raise questions about that line.

“This is to formally advise Minister Clement has revoked delegation of authority for the Marquee festivals program,” Clement’s chief of staff, Bill King, wrote to senior bureaucrats on June 29.

“All files, projects, correspondence and communications are now to be managed, approved and signed off by Minister Clement instead of Minister Ablonczy.”

King’s letter was sent just two weeks after Ablonczy announced $400,000 for Toronto Pride – followed by a Tory caucus meeting where some MPs expressed dismay that the gay and lesbian festival had received tourism stimulus funds.

A set of handwritten minutes from a departmental “team meeting” dated the same day notes that “Minister Clement 1/8is 3/8 now signing events,” and that Marquee “activities 1/8are 3/8 being scrutinized.” Other subsequent notes have been blanked out, citing government confidentiality.

Applicants to the program are subject to a rigorous set of criteria, based on the number of domestic and international tourists they expect to attract and the size of their budgets.

Cunningham maintains it was always envisioned that Clement would take the file over from Ablonczy after a prescribed period of time. He said the memo from King was simply a routine document to signal the transfer of fiduciary responsibility.

“We never looked at it as anything other than the program moving back over,” said Cunningham, adding it was an unfortunate coincidence that it happened after the Toronto Pride funding announcement.

Industry Canada did not provide any documents through Access to Information that indicated the pre-planned transfer of responsibility. An official notice of revocation of authority is generally communicated through senior bureaucrats charged with a department’s finances, rather than by a political staffer such as Clement’s chief of staff.

June 29th was, of course, exactly one week after McVety issued his clarion call to supporters.  Just five days later, PMO sent out a caucus-wide ‘Info Alert’ in response to what it somewhat described as  an “increasing number of constituent communications related to the Marquee Tourism Events Program,” and noted that the program was now being handled by Clement, who would be reviewing “the entire program” to ensure that it was providing “genuine stimulus to the economy.”

The following Monday, according to the documents obtained by Canadian Press, departmental officials were informed that Clement had “revoked delegation of authority” from Ablonczy. A few weeks later, Montreal’s Divers/Cite festival learned that its funding request had been rejected, despite the fact that organizers had been told that it had met all the criteria under the program, and had been sent to Clement’s office for “final approval.”

If all that is simply a coincidence, as the minister’s office maintains that it was, it really is a remarkable one.

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