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Composer Bryce Kulak directs the Harbourfront Complaints Choir during rehearsal at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. (Della Rollins/The Globe and Mail)
Composer Bryce Kulak directs the Harbourfront Complaints Choir during rehearsal at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. (Della Rollins/The Globe and Mail)

Federal election could imperil Harbourfront funding Add to ...

A Toronto arts centre is facing the prospect of cutbacks if opposition parties make good on their threats to topple the federal government.

The Harbourfront Centre on Queen's Quay was set to have its $5-million annual funding allocation from the federal government renewed for another five years as part of the 2011 budget.

A non-profit organization, Harbourfront operates theatres and art exhibition spaces in its complex on the central waterfront. It also runs marinas, hosts outdoor concerts and provides space for festivals. Its annual operating budget is about $32-million, Mr. Boyle said, meaning the federal money is a substantial chunk.

The centre, which receives its money directly from the Department of Finance, had been asking the government for the last year whether the funding would continue and was told to wait for the budget. Last year's money runs out on March 31 and the organization has not heard whether there will be any bridge funding to tide it over if an election is called.

"In this situation, it's anyone's guess what would happen," said CEO Bill Boyle. "We've never had this happen before."

The Department of Finance did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

If the money doesn't come through from the government this month, the centre may be able to count on the local arts community to find a way - perhaps through loans - to help out.

"As an arts community, we'll have to see what we can do to give them a hand. It's such an important institution, we can't let it flounder for a couple of months," said Jeff Melanson, Mayor Rob Ford's adviser on the arts. "Right now, we're heading into a season that's of critical importance to them."

Those who use the venue, for their part, are planning to go ahead with their performances and exhibitions. The Toronto Storytelling Festival has a full day's worth of events at Harbourfront April 3, and said they would still be happening.

The Art of Time Ensemble, a musical group that stages several shows at Harbourfront every season, wasn't sure how any potential budget constraints would affect it, said executive director Anna Kajtar. Art of Time, like other groups that use the space, benefit from its technical crew and box office as well as its facilities.

"It's a great theatre - we really like the venue. We like that we're part of a larger institution, it's good for marketing," she said.

The Harbourfront funding, along with a pledge to enshrine the municipalities' share of the gas tax in law, was one of the few items in the budget that would benefit the city. Mr. Ford responded to the government's announcements with a brief written statement.

"We have had a good working relationship with the federal government," he said. "The City of Toronto looks forward to further details on the long-term infrastructure funding and how it will help Toronto residents."

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