Review restores hope for community groups

A review of how the province shares its gambling profits with community groups must, say charity advocates, restore slashed grants to former levels and curtail Victoria’s ability to interfere in the future.

Curator Paul Crawford of the Penticton Art Gallery looks over the work of kids registered in one of the programs offered by the centre. A provincial review will look at gaming grant funding for local community groups such as the gallery.

Curator Paul Crawford of the Penticton Art Gallery looks over the work of kids registered in one of the programs offered by the centre. A provincial review will look at gaming grant funding for local community groups such as the gallery.

A review of how the province shares its gambling profits with community groups must, say charity advocates, restore slashed grants to former levels and curtail Victoria’s ability to interfere in the future.

The Community Gaming Grant Review, announced last week by Premier Christy Clark, is to deliver a top-to-bottom assessment of the system and determine options to “create certainty and sustainability” for affected non-profit groups and charities.

“We’ve been lucky so far, but this next year could be quite devastating to us if they don’t change things,” said Paul Crawford, curator of the Penticton Art Gallery.

Crawford, who recently finished a two-year term on the B.C. Arts Council funding selection jury, said he would like to see some legislation to prevent the government changing directions again.

Many groups were outraged in 2009 when the province cut grants to community groups from $156 million to $120 million a year. That was raised to $135 million this spring after Clark took office.

While Crawford admits Premier Clark has given back a little of that money since taking office, he thinks she may be holding back on the balance of it as a carrot for a possible election.

“I think it is the one trump card they have, should an election be called. An election being called would be the best thing for us: my suspicion is that they would release a lot of that money back to the community groups that lost it,” said Crawford.

The gallery has been lucky; they had a contract for a bingo affiliation that the government was forced to honour. But he said a lot of other groups weren’t so lucky.

“Organizations like ourselves, we’ve been lucky, we scraped in on that three-year contract. But our contract expires this year. I’m pretty worried where we will be next year,” said Crawford. “It wasn’t only arts groups. It’s not just us, there are a lot of community groups, both arts organizations and community groups,” he said. “The government kept cutting back on funding to parent advisory councils and other groups and then kept downloading those expenses onto gaming.”

Susan Marsden, president of the B.C. Association for Charitable Gaming, characterized the raid two years ago as an attack on non-profits, particularly those in arts and culture.

“They decided they were going to cut out arts and culture entirely, cut environmental groups entirely, cut other groups by 50 per cent and give 100 per cent to their favourite charities,” she said.

One of the groups hit by the funding cutbacks was Penticton’s Rotary Okanagan International Children’s Festival, which saw their grant slashed to zero in 2010, after receiving $20,000 in 2009. Funding for this year was initially denied as well, before being overturned on appeal.

“In 2011 we requested $25,000. It was denied, but we asked them to reconsider because they seemed to have not paid much attention to one of their clauses, the youth learning by doing clause, which is what the Children’s Festival is,” said Lori Dunn, a director of the festival society. “So we focused more on our interactive activities and asked them to look at that for reconsideration. At that point we received 50 per cent of what we asked for.”

Dunn said the society is just going to wait and see what comes out of the gaming grant review, but has hopes that they will see some funding restored, adding that the group has just been informed they are receiving $15,000 in response to their current funding request of $50,000.

“We asked for a lot more this year, partially because Heritage Canada has put us up to the next level; we have a foundation grant from them, and we are on a two-year cycle now,” she said. “We are recognized by Heritage as a more substantial festival, we were hoping to have that respect from gaming as well.”

Marsden worries that any changes may come too late to help out some of the worst hit groups.

“I don’t know if there will be any charities left to fund once they get around to putting anything into legislation, not to mention there may be an election in between,” she said, adding that many non-profit groups are “on life support” after cutting staff and switching to cheaper accommodation.

More than two-thirds of the $1 billion a year in revenue that comes to the province from gambling goes into general revenue, with another $147 million dedicated to health funding, $82 million shared with cities that host casinos or community gaming centres and the rest is shared with community groups. Charities have often been enlisted to voice their support for gaming when new casinos or slot machine venues have been proposed.