Gaming grants that were put on hold during the May provincial election will remain frozen until September, according to NDP culture critic Spencer Herbert.
"The money is frozen until September, until the budget comes in, because it wasn’t approved in the interim supply,” said Herbert in a phone call with the Straight. “So basically, groups are going to be stuck waiting until September, when even then it’s going to take some time for them [the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, which administers the grants] to decide, I guess, what size is the gaming money that they’re going to allocate. And that’s a big concern because with the huge challenges everywhere else, I’m worried they’re going to pull from that stack to pay into another area.”
Among the hundreds of arts and non-profit groups who regularly rely on the grants are Ballet B.C., which last year received $50,000; the Arts Club Theatre, which last year received $55,000; Holy Body Tattoo, which last year received $40,000; and the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival (VIWRF), which last year received $30,000.
On the Ministry of Housing and Social Development’s grant status web page, a number of applications for Direct Access grant money remain listed as “in progress”, despite applications going as far back as May.
“Once they’ve completed it and they mark it completed online, usually the money comes within days,” noted Camilla Tibbs, general manager of the VIWRF. “Ours was marked as completed on May 29, so I was surprised that the money just didn’t appear in our bank account....They haven’t told me why it’s still frozen. I phoned and they said, 'Yes, because of the election, everything’s frozen.'” The VIWRF was approved for multi-year funding, she said. “Even if it’s multi-year it’s at the whim of the government....It was probably silly of me to think oh, it’s 100-percent guaranteed.”
Amir Ali Alibhai, executive director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture, said the organizations normally receives $30,000 a year to fund an information resource staff position, but that the money for this year has yet to flow. “If we didn’t get our funding, we would lose an entire position here,” he said. He added, “I’ve had a couple of members in the community express concern about this....Either they’re slow or there’s actually something else going on.”
Ministry spokesperson Seumas Gordon said that the funds were currently “on hold”, but could not confirm for how long. He later provided the following statement from the Ministry: "Government has undertaken a comprehensive review of discretionary grants to ensure we continue to fund core services and priorities during unprecedented economic challenges. Decisions on gaming grants coincide with the closing dates of the application process, and applicants are informed in writing regarding the outcome of their application."
Herbert said he was told directly by the ministry that the funds would not be released until at least September.