Harper showsanti-gay side

Toronto’s annual gay pride festival is a major event, attracting an estimated 300,000 tourists to the city and ploughing $136 million into the local economy. Last year, it was deemed worthy of a $397,500 grant from Ottawa under its “marquee events” stimulus program. This year, it will get nothing.

Why the change?

Pride’s organizers blame “some kind of homophobia” in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Ottawa. Toronto Councillor Kyle Rae calls it a “discriminatory, Neanderthal government.” The federal Liberals say it is a “reckless, ideological cut.”

The government vehemently denies all this. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Industry Minister Tony Clement in the Commons on Monday. “This is a two-year stimulus program. In year one of this program, almost 75 per cent of the funding went to events in Canada’s largest cities. In year two, we wanted to ensure that the money was spread out to some of the smaller cities so they were able to benefit as well.”

It would be nice to believe Clement, but the Harper government has a certain history when it comes to Pride Toronto, the group that runs the festival.

Last year, Diane Ablonczy, then minister of tourism, was photographed smiling among drag queens after handing out the $397,500 cheque to Pride Toronto. The Conservative core in rural and small-town Canada was not amused. Ablonczy had her grant-giving authority yanked and given to the apparently more reliable Clement,

Consider, as well, other recent moves by the government, such as defunding women’s groups, excluding abortion from its international maternal health initiative, and pushing legislation to scrap the long-gun registry.

Harper’s Conservatives appear to be pushing social conservative hot buttons these days. It is hard not to see the yanking of the gay pride grant in this context.

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