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Some of the many colourful participants in Montreal's annual gay pride parade embrace on Aug. 17, 2008. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
Some of the many colourful participants in Montreal's annual gay pride parade embrace on Aug. 17, 2008. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Tories reject funding for Montreal gay festival Add to ...

A gay and lesbian arts festival that was told it met all government criteria under a new tourism stimulus program learned Tuesday it was rejected for funding.

The news arrived at Montreal's Divers-Cite a few weeks after tension swept the Conservative caucus over funding for Toronto's Pride week, and just days before the beginning of the event.

The directors of Montreal's Divers-Cite had actually sprung to the defence of Stephen Harper's government earlier this month, telling The Canadian Press that the Conservatives had never treated them differently. Some in the gay community attacked them for their comments.

They had submitted a bid under the new Marquee Tourism Events Program for $155,000 to add performers and promotion to this year's $2-million event.

Government relations and marketing director Paul Girard said bureaucrats handling his file at Industry Canada told him his application met all the criteria, and had been sent up to Minister Tony Clement's office for final approval.

When he phoned to check on the bid Tuesday, Mr. Girard says he was told by a senior bureaucrat that the $100-million program had received so many requests, the government simply had to make a choice.

"We knew that anybody that was to be refused and didn't meet the criteria got a quick No," Mr. Girard said. "As time advanced, we became more and more confident."

Paul's sister Suzanne, the festival's director, says the organization was completely shocked by the response. Divers-Cite has received funding from Economic Development Canada for several years, as well as Canadian Heritage.

She said she felt certain that every festival was on the same footing, because it was handled by an economic department and was designed to stimulate the economy.

"We met all the criteria - this is a democracy," Mr. Girard said. "They changed the rules as they went along.

"I feel like I've been had."

Mr. Clement's office was not immediately available for comment Tuesday evening.

Mr. Clement took over the new tourism funding envelope late last month, after members of the Tory caucus complained that junior minister Diane Ablonczy had approved funding for Toronto's Pride week festivities.

MP Brad Trost told a socially conservative news website that she had been stripped of the portfolio. The government said the plan was to move the envelope to Mr. Clement all along.

Other Conservatives, including Senator Nancy Ruth and former cabinet minister Monte Solberg, sprang to Ms. Ablonczy's defence, saying she handled the portfolio properly and without undue political meddling.

The Marquee Tourism Event Program has a rigorous approval system, to avoid the pitfalls the previous sponsorship program under the Liberals experienced with political intervention. Only larger events that attract significant out-of-town tourism qualify. Vancouver and Montreal pride weeks did not qualify under the criteria.

Paul Girard said he has noticed that although Divers-Cite received two-year funding by the Economic Development Canada this year, for the first time the agency did not send his event a public letter congratulating them on their continued success.

This year's Divers-Cite festival features international acts such as Latin American songstress India, Quebecois performer Marjo and disco queens Sister Sledge.

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