OTTAWA — Industry Minister Tony Clement’s office directed bureaucrats to “scrutinize activities” of major tourism events up for stimulus funding, just two weeks after Toronto’s Gay Pride festival received a federal grant.
And documents suggest Clement had a direct hand in dumping cabinet colleague Diane Ablonczy from the helm of the program, notwithstanding assertions the leadership change was always in the works.
There was “no relieving” Ablonczy of her duties at the Marquee Tourism Events Program following the controversial Pride grant, Clement’s office said publicly in July. Ablonczy is the junior minister in charge of tourism and small business.
Darren Cunningham, Clement’s spokesman, said at the time that the program was simply entering a second phase that would be managed by the senior minister.
But documents obtained by The Canadian Press under Access to Information legislation raise questions about that line.
“This is to formally advise Minister Clement has revoked delegation of authority for the Marquee festivals program,” Clement’s chief of staff, Bill King, wrote to senior bureaucrats on June 29.
“All files, projects, correspondence and communications are now to be managed, approved and signed off by Minister Clement instead of Minister Ablonczy.”
King’s letter was sent just two weeks after Ablonczy announced $400,000 for Toronto Pride — followed by a Tory caucus meeting where some MPs expressed dismay that the gay and lesbian festival had received tourism stimulus funds.
A set of handwritten minutes from a departmental “team meeting” dated the same day notes that “Minister Clement “ is now signing events,” and that Marquee “activities are being scrutinized.”
Other subsequent notes have been blanked out, citing government confidentiality.
Applicants to the program are subject to a rigorous set of criteria, based on the number of domestic and international tourists they expect to attract and the size of their budgets.
Cunningham maintains it was always envisioned that Clement would take the file over from Ablonczy after a prescribed period of time. He said the memo from King was simply a routine document to signal the transfer of fiduciary responsibility.
Industry Canada did not provide any documents through Access to Information that indicated the pre-planned transfer of responsibility. An official notice of revocation of authority is generally communicated through senior bureaucrats charged with a department’s finances, rather than by a political staffer such as Clement’s chief of staff.
“Please contact me directly should you wish to discuss,” King writes at the end of his memo.
Following the Toronto Pride controversy, the government rejected a funding proposal from Montreal’s Divers-Cite festival.