Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ottowa Pride Faces Bankruptcy

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

CREDIT: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa annual gay pride parade is in limbo after members of its organizing committee admitted it is "effectively bankrupt" and needs $25,000 or more from the city to stay afloat.

The Ottawa-Gatineau Pride committee says it can't pay back its estimated $187,000 debt unless it gets more funding to run the annual festival and parade.

The committee owes $66,000 to the City of Ottawa and about $100,000 to local businesses. About one-tenth of the $100,000 is in question because invoices are not available, according to Gordon Boissonneault, committee treasurer.

But the committee needs to borrow money to generate money in order to pay back what it owes.

"If we don't have a festival this year, then there's no guarantee we can pay back the creditors because they are our primary fund generator," said Tamara Stammis, a committee member.

The group did not have a full-time treasurer until this year, said Mr. Boissonneault, who recently took over the job. He is having trouble following the money trail because some records are missing and it is unclear who is still owed money.

"There's no record of proof that some of the contracts signed for 2005 were approved by the board of directors," said Ms. Stammis.

Meanwhile, the committee has sent a letter to known creditors, offering to pay 25 cents on the dollar, said Mr. Boissonneault. Most creditors have accepted the offer, he said.

But some say they are hesitant to give away more money.

As a business person, when you invest in something, you expect a return, said Robert Giacobbi, co-owner of Wilde's, the largest store in Ottawa to cater to a gay clientele.

He gave a $6,000 donation over two years while the parade was on Bank Street, but stopped when the parade route was changed.

Members of the board plan to approach the city before the end of the month for more cash to keep the event afloat for at least a year. Right now, there are few confirmed sponsors. If this is still the case at the end of April, the committee might have to pull the plug -- at least for this year, said Mr. Boissonneault.

"The psychological impact of missing a year would be pretty damaging to the gay community," Mr. Boissonneault said. "If we got $25,000 or $35,000, we could make this happen."

However, he and Ms. Stammis are optimistic that if the parade is cancelled this year, it could still run next year without losing momentum.

Mr. Boissonneault said Pride has four new committee members, including himself. He's taken the initiative to enforce a two-year maximum term for the volunteer committee and a re-payment plan to the creditors.

The recurring deficit situation has cast a cloud on an annual event that has grown, but remains difficult to keep going compared to pride events in bigger gay hubs like Montreal and Toronto.

Attendance at the Pride festival jumped from 3,000 in 2001 to more than 50,000 in 2002. However, money has been a problem. The entire board of directors resigned in 2003 because of the deficit.

Some disagree with the city handing out any more money to the festival.

"That's were we have an issue, going back to the city or taxpayers for more money, when they clearly have not shown the willingness or ability to keep their current financial commitments," said Adrienne Batra, spokeswoman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

"Putting additional taxpayers' money at risk is not a sound decision and city officials should resist the temptation to meet the request for funding," she said.

"We have absolutely no issue with the nature of the event. But what is at issue is whether or not public dollars should be going towards this event."

© The Ottawa Citizen 2006