You’re doin’ a heckuva job, Ablonczy

Tony Clement did an interview with Dave Rutherford on Calgary’s AM770 this morning and addressed the Divers-Cite situation. Here’s a transcript of that conversation.

Rutherford: This guy gets to hand out checks, even while doing serious business, he gets to hand out checks. Did one in Calgary yesterday. Even gets to hand out checks when he’s not there, one was handed out in Ottawa today on his behalf, 210,000 bucks to the Chamber Fest ’09. It’s all part of this marquee funding tourism events program that Tony Clement’s department is responsible for. Handing out money is a lot of fun, but Tony you’re getting some heat today from the gay community in Montreal because you didn’t give their arts festival any money, but you did give money to the Toronto gay pride parade. What’s the difference?

Clement: Well, you know, we look at each individual application, Dave, and we also look to make sure that there’s some regional fairness. The fact of the matter is, in Montreal, there’d already been eight million dollars handed out for various fairs and festivals. I think Quebec has had a hitherto total of about 42% of the funds. So basically there’s lot of applications, only about 26% of the applicants actually get the money, no matter how worthy their proposal might be. So I think in the sense of regional fairness, we want to make sure that Western Canada gets some of the money, Eastern Canada gets some of the money and that’s how you make sure that we are helping tourism and helping the economy all throughout the country.

Rutherford: So nothing to do with the fact that it’s a gay and lesbian festival in Montreal?

Clement: Well, no, I mean we’re here to make a decision on a case-by-case basis. And, you know, I thank them for the application, but the fact of the matter is we’re very over-subscribed in Montreal with applications and I just did an announcement yesterday for the Calgary Folk Festival, they got some money from us, and I’ll be in Edmonton on Friday for the (inaudible) announcement there, so I think that’s only fair—that we spread the money around, increase tourism, increase economic activity throughout the country.

Rutherford: I ask the question because clearly you know about the Diane Ablonczy scenario, who was taken off the file of handing out the money after the Toronto Pride week festival got its money and there was some criticism from Brad Trost, a small-c conservative MP from Saskatchewan, who said, oh now, we’re not going to be supporting those kinds of people. So you’re saying that this is not a fallout from that?

Clement: No, listen, Diane’s doing a great job. She’s the minister of state for tourism, the minister of state for small business, they operate out of Industry Canada, so she and I have a lot of collaboration together and she’s working really hard on this national tourism strategy that we’re trying to get going. I think it is responsible for government though, once you get a new program up and running, to review that program, and that’s my responsibility as Industry Minister, to review the program, make sure it’s meeting our accountability targets and our efficiency targets, and that’s how you make sure you spend money in a defensible way.

Rutherford: So was the Montreal denial part of the review?

Clement: No, it was part of the next wave—we had these large tourism events, like the Calgary Stampede is a good example, then we had these smaller events that typically attract 50,000, 70,000 participants. And the Montreal event was in that category, but we had a lot of applications for that particular category and not everybody’s going to be approved.

Rutherford: You know, Minister, looking at the Ablonczy situation, I’m going to move on to other things, but we were baffled by the fact that Ablonczy was up doing the check-handing-out, distributing some of the money for the Marquee Tourism Events Program and then taken off after Brad Trost complained about Toronto. Are you saying there was no connection between those two events?

Clement: I guess what I can tell you is we’re reviewing the file. I think that’s my place to do that. When I say file, I mean all of the Marquee Tourism file. That’s my place as Industry Minister and, yeah, I think Diane’s doing a great job as minister of state for tourism and she’s still minister of state for tourism. She’s got a really big project on this national tourism strategy and that’s what she’s spending her time on.

Rutherford: Because money was given to gay pride parades in the past, right?

Clement: Not from this program because it’s a—

Rutherford: —Not from this program, but from your government.

Clement: Heritage Canada, they’ve had various programs where they’ve given money for artistic festivals and things like that. So, you know, I think what we’ve got to make sure is that we’re fair to everybody and I want to make sure not all the money goes to Toronto, not all the money goes to Montreal. Some of it should of course because they’re major tourist centres for us. But we’ve got to also balance things out and make sure that Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, you name it, if they’ve got a viable project that meets the criteria, they should be able to get a crack at the funding too.