Flirting with equality

Every now and then I feel as if Prime Minister Stephen Harper is justified in allegedly maintaining a gag order or a tight leash on his Members of Parliament. The controversies and scandals surrounding the federal government’s funding of Toronto’s Gay Pride Week are making this one of those times.

Since $400,000 in funding for Toronto’s Gay Pride Week was announced at the beginning of the summer, Industry Minister Tony Clement has faced accusations of ordering his department to give special scrutiny to “gay-themed” events in its administration of the Marquee Tourism Events Program. He has also been accused of replacing Tourism Minister Diane Ablonzy as head of the program after the decision to fund Gay Pride was made.

I should be upfront in my support of Gay Pride Week. I feel it’s a great time to be in Toronto — there’s so much energy, colour, excitement and so many amazingly diverse people. I was pleased to hear that it was awarded $400,000 funding under the Marquee Program. So, how did this funding decision spiral out from being welcome financial support for a popular tourism event to become a hotly-debated Conservative party nightmare?

Enter Brad Trost.

Trost, a Conservative MP from Saskatchewan, told pro-life website that “the pro-life and the pro-family community should know and understand that the tourism funding money that went to the gay pride parade in Toronto was not government policy, was not supported by — I think it’s safe to say by a large majority — of the MPs. This was a very isolated decision.” In one apologetic statement, Trost implied that a fractured Conservative Party had a temporary lapse in judgment, during which a high-profile minister and her department decided to support a celebration of diversity (or as describes it, “full frontal nudity and public sex acts by homosexuals”).

Fortunately for Trost, he has again faded into backbencher obscurity as larger insinuations of Conservative homophobia become headline news thanks to Liberal MP Marlene Jennings. Unfortunately for Stephen Harper, his party is losing credibility for spending $400,000 in an attempt to stimulate tourism in Toronto.

It would be unfair to assign all the blame to Trost, since he seems to be far from the only Canadian who will condemn something the moment it’s associated with the LGBT* community. But with a single pandering statement, Trost shifted the focus of the Marquee Events Tourism Program from stimulating the economy and promoting tourism to re-hashing the fear some Canadians have for people who are different. If the country could get past that, maybe we could instead talk about how the $400,000 was ear-marked for increasing accessibility for people with disabilities. Or consider why this batch of federal funding has sparked such public outcry, when Gay Pride has received federal funding — though in smaller amounts — for years. Or ask whether social conservative interests were already accommodated by Ablonczy when she gave the Toronto event $400,000, but the Calgary Stampede, TIFF and a number of music and drama festivals each received between $2-3 million. Or whether big government spending, of which the $100 million Marquee Events Tourism Program is but one example, is going to help the country recover from recession, and whether it will be worth it later, when the deficit needs to be repaid.

Ironically, $400,000 to be spent over two years isn’t even considered very much money in the context of government funding. Sure, it’s more than four times what the Liberal government paid Rick Mercer to make commercials for its One Tonne Challenge, but it’s a fraction of what other unpopular programmes have cost (long-range gun registry comes to mind). I do believe that governments should be prudent with every penny that’s entrusted to them, but I also believe that, rather than bemoaning the “loss” of $400,000 of taxpayers’ money, we should think about the $300 million that could be eaten up by another election. Or should I welcome an election? After all, just when I was about to congratulate the Conservatives for supporting Gay Pride, some of them decided it was a mistake for which they need to apologize.

Mallory Richard is a politically confused young graduate student at the U of M.