B.C. government could face lawsuits if it fails to honour gaming grant commitments

The executive director of Le Centre Culturel Francophone de Vancouver says he will investigate the possibility of launching a class action suit should Direct Access gaming grant money be denied. Currently, $36 million in grants from lottery and gaming revenues is on hold while the government conducts a review of discretionary grants, and even those groups that are in the middle of a three-year funding commitment are unsure as to whether they will ultimately receive their grants.

“In our case, we were approved for three years last year,” said Le Centre’s Pierre Rivard, noting that the organization was promised $40,000 each year from 2008-2009 to 2010-2011. “Our fiscal year starts April 1, and we were never warned or told that there could be a freeze whatsoever. We spent that money on our [Festival d’été] festival which is in June....This is a matter of due diligence, and for me, it’s the equivalent of a breach of contract....I mean, we did our share. We did the festival as we promised, and we put the [government] logo everywhere as requested. We did our part, and they cannot renege the funds and go back on their word, and say, ”˜Oh, sorry, after all we’re not giving you the money.’”

Rivard said that should the gaming money not come through, Le Centre will have difficulty fulfilling its Cultural Olympiad programming: “We are committed with VANOC in participating in many projects to make sure there will be French-language content during the festival. And if I learn that I lose this $40,000, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to honour my commitments with VANOC.”

Other groups that have a multi-year gaming grant commitment include the International Writers and Readers Festival and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra. The PBO, according general manager Nancy Cottingham-Powell, was promised $37,000 a year in gaming grants until 2010-2011, while it traditionally receives $15,000 a year from the B.C. Arts Council.

“If you consider the number of organizations that were promised multi-year funding, and the fact we are at mid-point in our fiscal year right now, we would have liked a heads-up, or at least a warning from the branch to apply due diligence and plan accordingly,” said Rivard. “Now, if we lose those funds, it’s an automatic deficit of $40,000, and for some organizations, that can be a death sentence. You lose all credibility with your suppliers that you cannot pay, and we are all, at this point, in our line of credit at the bank.”

Rivard said he spoke with his MLA, Minister of Education Margaret MacDiarmid, who investigated the situation on his behalf. “She told me that many organizations should expect to be quite disappointed with the funding they will receive from B.C. Gaming this year, and that if there are funds, they will be released soon,” he said.

MacDiarmid did not respond directly to the Straight’s request for an interview, but provided the following statement: “Like other jurisdictions around the world, our government is facing unprecedented economic times that require some difficult decisions. As a result, government undertook a comprehensive review of discretionary grants to ensure we continue core services and priorities....Obviously, with these things, there are more people applying than there are funds available, so some people will be disappointed.”

Rich Coleman, minister of housing and social development, the ministry which administers the gaming grants, did not respond to interview requests.

NDP culture critic Spencer Herbert said he would not be surprised if the government finds itself facing legal action from arts groups. “I’ve got the letters [from gaming], and I received a letter when I wrote as an arts administrator assuring me that ”˜You’ve been confirmed for three years, you don’t need to apply again.’ There is no wiggle room in the letter. I would expect they have to follow through on those commitments, otherwise lawsuits could be put forward.”

Rivard said that gaming grant money makes up a much larger piece of his budget than B.C. Arts Council funding. Le Centre received $13,000 from the council this year, he said, adding: “If I lose that [gaming money], I’m going to be in the very ironic situation where I get more money from the government of Quebec than the government of B.C.” He said the government of Quebec provided Le Centre with $16,000 this year. “I mean, in an Olympic year, will I have to rely more on the government of Quebec to provide programs for the government of B.C.? I don’t know if that’s a message that Premier Campbell wants to send to the rest of Canada.”