Arts minister Ida Chong defends B.C.'s gaming grant budget
B.C.’s minister of community, sport, and cultural development is defending the government against accusations that nonprofits and charities will experience cuts across the board as a result of changes to eligibility rules that will see a greater number of organizations competing for the same amount of money as was available last year.
On January 11, after a two-week delay, the B.C. government released former Kwantlen Polytechnic University president Skip Triplett’s $352,757 gaming-grant review. Premier Christy Clark announced her government would fund gaming grants to the tune of $135 million over the next three years, as well as reinstate eligibility for adult arts and sports, animal welfare, and environmental groups. Last year, the government provided a $15-million one-time top-up to the base gaming grant budget of $120 million.
“The dollar amount, while it may be the same [as last year], is not going to the same people,” Minister Ida Chong insisted. “Last year there were certain groups that received a top-up who are not going to receive a top-up in this amount, in part because the ability to give them their amount during the year has already occurred. So in fact, we have some room to provide for the restoration of a number of these groups.…To say that it’s the same amount, well, mathematically that’s correct. But the distribution certainly isn’t correct. There will be new groups or groups that will now be eligible who were not eligible. And we were able to do that as a result of the gaming-grant review that took place.”
While some arts organizations reacted positively to news of the B.C. government’s boost to gaming grants and its reinstatement of eligibility to adult arts groups, the president of the B.C. Association for Charitable Gaming says she’s extremely disappointed that the government did not fully restore gaming grants to the 2008-09 level of $156 million.
“Overall, we’re disappointed,” Susan Marsden said. “We have consistently said from the very day of the cuts that we should be returned to the full amount, at the very minimum, and immediately. And after two years they still haven’t done that.…If those people who are eligible are getting a very small percentage of what they used to get, what does that eligibility actually mean for the next three years?”
Marsden said she was also concerned the arts sector will be absorbing the majority of the shortfall. Until last year, she noted, the government was still paying out $20 million a year to adult arts and culture groups who had multiyear-funding commitments. Those expired last year. The government has earmarked just $6 million of the additional $15 million for adult arts, culture, and sports. If, observed Marsden, the government retains the $20 million of base funding, in addition to the new $6 million, the total still remains at half of the $50 million the sector was receiving in 2008/2009.
“In a nutshell, the arts and culture sector and adult sports will be absorbing the majority, by far, of the cut,” she said. “We’re very pleased that the arts and culture sector has been acknowledged as an important sector....But to turn around and not really give any significant money to that sector is a bit of a sleight of hand.”
The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union also had strong words for the government. “Setting a $135-million baseline grant budget will not alleviate the chronic underfunding and uncertainty faced by community-based organizations in our province,” said union president Darryl Walker in a news release. The BCGEU further noted that, according to its calculations, the share of gaming revenues allocated to grants has dropped by 41 percent since 2001-02.
The Alliance for Arts and Culture was more optimistic, however. “We have heard from many of our members about their sense of relief upon hearing that their eligibility is restored for community gaming grants,” said the Alliance’s executive director Rob Gloor. “While the total funding amount does not reach the levels allocated in 2008, before the cuts occurred, it represents a significant increase to the arts and culture sector compared to where we stood last week.”