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Ottawa gives millions to shore up Canada 150 project budgets

Winnipeggers form a ‘Living Leaf’ as part of Canada 150 celebrations on July 1. Canadian Heritage budgeted $79-million in total for a number of ‘signature projects’ and expects an average of 500,000 Canadians to participate in each one, according to the department’s annual report to Parliament.

JOHN WOODS/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government is awarding millions of dollars in extra funding to some of its key Canada 150 projects to shore up budgets, compensate for lower-than-expected private fundraising and help projects promote themselves in a crowded field.

Even though Canada Day has come and gone, dozens of Ottawa's key projects – pitched by private companies and funded from federal coffers – are still under way. Collectively, they seek to engage millions of Canadians in celebrating their country through activities such as public talks, film viewings and competitions.

The funding for these 38 "signature projects" represents almost 40 per cent of the $200-million the federal government is spending to recognize the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The rest of the funds pay for major anniversary events, such as July 1 on Parliament Hill, and hundreds of smaller projects across the country. When combined with the money set aside to fix up community buildings under the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, Ottawa is spending more than half a billion dollars to commemorate the country's birthday.

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A spokesman for the Heritage Minister says the $9.3-million in additional funds for 11 of the signature projects has already been accounted for.

"For us, the eventual need for supplemental funding for some projects had been predicted and there was a reserve in the Canada 150 signature envelope. This is not new money," spokesman Pierre-Olivier Herbert said.

Canadian Heritage budgeted $79-million in total for the signature projects and expects an average of 500,000 Canadians to participate in each one, according to the department's annual report to Parliament.

The biggest top-up was provided to the RDV 2017 Tall Ships Regatta, under which more than 40 "cathedrals of the sea" are scheduled to make stops in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. Approved by the Harper government in 2015, the project initially received $7-million. That amount has been boosted by an extra $3.4-million to cover "docking licence fees," Canadian Heritage said.

A spokesperson for Heritage explained that the additional funding for Rendez-vous Naval de Quebec, the company behind the program, was used to add 20 days in August to the event and increase the number of cities visited by the tall ships.

The most expensive signature project is Sesqui, a travelling cinematic show that seeks to marry cutting-edge art and technology with a film of Canadian landscapes projected inside custom-built domes.

The project, billed as "this generation's Expo 67" in its application for Canada 150 funds, received an initial $9.5-million investment from the government, followed up by an extra $1-million last year when anticipated support from provincial and corporate sponsors did not materialize. Sesqui cut down its national dome tour to just Ontario, but produced new film and virtual-reality content that still allowed it to schedule events in cities across the country.

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"We did have our project scope change based on support levels last year, but through partnerships across the country, we're on target to reach our targets for participation," spokesperson Sean Moffitt said in an e-mail.

For most of the signature projects, federal Heritage funding is only one source of revenue, with other government or private sources making up the balance.

The Students on Ice Foundation, which received $4.8-million from Heritage to pilot an icebreaker for a 150-day journey from Toronto to Victoria via the Northwest Passage, received an additional $2-million earlier this year to fill a fundraising gap and to participate in Winterlude.

"Over the two years of planning for the Canada C3 project, the scale, scope and budget also grew," said Students on Ice president Geoff Green. "It became much more than a voyage of celebration. It became a voyage of reconciliation, science, education and a massive communication platform. With all that, the overall project budget went over $10-million."

In the case of an exchange program called Canada 150 & Me, which initially received $700,000 from the government, organizers found $500,000 in external funding. However, they were still short and the government pitched in an additional $200,000.

Deborah Morrison, president of Experiences Canada, said that as part of the project, 450 kids travelled around the country to participate in forums on issues such as human rights, immigration and the environment.

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"Our choice was either to reduce the number of kids travelling or cut back on the programming, and we made a decision together it was worth the additional investment," she said.

ParticipAction, which received $4.9-million from Heritage, says an extra $500,000 helped it add events to its 150 Playlist program to promote physical fitness.

CEO Elio Antunes said the government is funding only about a third of the project's overall budget, the rest is coming from corporate sponsors such as Manulife and Chevrolet.

"We have leveraged the government money significantly to attract additional investment," Mr. Antunes said.

He added that the project got a lot of attention when it debuted late last year, but that became harder to get Canadians engaged as other Canada 150 programs picked up.

"Leading up to July 1, there was lots of activity, both government-sponsored and otherwise. So it's been a bit tougher to break through," Mr. Antunes said.

Another organization received additional funds to expand its plans for the Canada Day weekend.

A non-profit group called WE got an extra $1-million on top of its initial funding of $500,000 to put together a July 2 show on Parliament Hill that featured Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip and artists such as Nelly Furtado.

Organizers predicted a crowd of up to 100,000 for the show, but the RCMP estimate only 14,000 attended. The show was also broadcast online.

Not all signature projects have launched yet.

Vox Pop Labs, which received $576,500, had planned a spring unveiling for its Project Tessera nationwide survey on what it means to be Canadian. But after receiving the results of its original pilot studies, the firm needed time to readjust its methods, CEO Clifton van der Linden said, and Vox Pop's media partner, CBC, pushed for a fall launch.

4Rs Youth Movement, which received $398,000 to produce a series of gatherings for young people to discuss Indigenous issues, says it hopes to begin its programming in August.

Project organizerProject titleOriginal budgetExtra fundingRationale
Actua/Perimeter Institute/University of WaterlooInnovation150$5.875-million$900,000 Purchase upgraded vehicle, hire additional staff and expand promotion activities
Sesqui Inc. and Historica CanadaSesqui$12-million$1-millionEnhanced film and web production and distribution
Elpio ProductionCanada 150 Red Couch Tour$155,700 $42,870 To participate in key Canada 150 events
Experiences CanadaCanada 150&Me$700,000 $200,000 Fill in for fundraising shortfall
ParticipAction150 Playlist$4.9-million$500,000 Expanded promotional activities
Reel CanadaUniting Our Nation Through Film$2.6-million$80,000 Improve French-language content for website and promotion
Rendez-Vous Naval de QuébecRDV2017$7-million$3.4-millionPay for docking licence fees
Students on Ice FoundationCanada C3 – Coast to Coast to Coast$4.8-million$2-millionFill in for fundraising shortfall
Taking It Global Youth FoundationExplore150$500,000 $19,700 To participate in Winterlude
Walrus FoundationThe Walrus Talks$650,000 $52,000 Participate in activities to promote the Canadian Charter of Rights with a special publication and discussions at various events
WE CharityWe Are Canada$500,000 $1-millionHold event in Ottawa on July 2

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About the Authors
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

Assistant editor, Ottawa

Chris Hannay is assistant editor in The Globe's Ottawa bureau and author of the daily Politics newsletter. Previously, he was The Globe and Mail's digital politics editor, community editor for news and sports (working with social media and digital engagement) and a homepage editor. More

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