By Darren Lum
Published Jan. 29 2019
A recent announcement by the provincial government to withdraw $15 million from the Ontario Trillium Foundation budget for this winter is being met with disappointment in the Highlands.
The OTF is a government agency funded through government lotteries that provides grants to organizations and communities throughout the province.
In Haliburton County it has funded programming for children and adults recreation facilities services organizations or municipal governments. It easily totals more than a $1 million over the past few years. John Teljeur has worked with various organizations that have benefited from OTF grants directly.
He said the food bank buildings in Minden and in Wilberforce wouldn't have come to be without the OTF money.
“There's no way we could have raised enough money to build those buildings to get things started” he said.
In 2014 the Minden Masonic Hall Inc. was granted $150000 to build an addition to its Arcadia Lodge on Newcastle Street. This is the home to the Minden Food Bank and the Minden Community Kitchen where meals are made and cooking lessons provided to the community. The next year $141300 was granted for the construction of the addition to the Lloyd Watson Memorial Centre to house the Wilberforce Food bank which is part of the Central Food Network.
“In the case of Central Food it basically built the entire building [space] with little or no cost to the community although there were in-kind donations which you almost always have to have” Teljeur said.
“To me these are the kind of things that are investments. They should be looked at as investments. I mean you cut these things off and expect that everything will be fine and there [isn’t] collateral damage is ridiculous. I get the whole thing for financial accountability but you're talking about community projects that enhance a community and given the lack of infrastructure funding where else is this money going to come from?” he said.
Teljeur adds small towns and places even like Haliburton County just don't have the ability to raise huge amounts of money for big projects. It will hurt communities across Ontario he said.
Jim Blake is an active member of the Arts Council ~ Haliburton Highlands. He has been part of many projects related to OTF funding in the area. One of them is the three-year SPARC (Supporting Performing Arts in Rural and Remote Communities) project that will receive $548000 over three years. Although the recipient is the Highlands-based arts council SPARC is a provincial initiative to connect those in the performing arts to share and collaborate.
Blake has noticed a trend with the Ford government.
“From my observations what they're doing is they're just going around and looking where the Liberals increased funding for things and they're just taking funding to what it was before. So they're going back two years or three years whatever and going back to that funding. They've done the same thing with the Ontario Arts Council” he said.
Recent cuts have affected the basic income program Ontario Arts Council's Indigenous Culture Fund Ontario Arts Council Ontario College of Midwives elementary school specialized programs and others.
“The Trillium Foundation is the only place not-for-profit organizations can go to get a significant amount of money” Blake said “You can get a smaller amount of money from [HCDC] or through local fundraising or those kinds of things. When you want to do a big project that's the one place you can go to make it happen” he said.
Large sums of money are difficult to fundraise even for the Highlands.
He cited the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners' Associations which received a $111800 OTF grant for their shoreline evaluation project. This included a rehabilitation of Haliburton's Sam Slick Park across from the high school.
Blake said with the population growing every year there is greater demand for services and the organizations that provide them. As a result budgets should grow to meet the greater need and not be reduced.
He also works with Haliburton County Development Corporation and said there will be greater demands on them because of this announcement.
“We could provide grants that are $2500 [or] $5000 for programs and depending on what it was that would be good money for an organization to get started on something and then they could leverage that and say we already got money locally and now we can apply for a Trillium funding and get that funding” he said. “Everything affects everything else.”
Curling clubs in Minden and Haliburton have also received grants to improve their facilities.
The Haliburton Curling Club updated its ice making equipment with $150000 received a few years ago. The money helped address a “laundry list of equipment that was necessary to change because of its age and likelihood of failure” said Wanda Stephen of the Haliburton Curling Club.
Without the OTF grant the club would have had to find other grants which likely would have meant rebuilding a little at a time with smaller sums of money.
Many clubs in Ontario and Canada have aging buildings Stephen said and there is an ever-present concern about aging ice making equipment.
She said these kinds of large-scale projects can't be covered by the club membership even if done over years. It would likely lead to club closures.
“Haliburton’s scenario is not unique – curling clubs everywhere live out every season with their fingers crossed – we are blessed with a great membership committed volunteers and a very responsible board of directors. We have planned for those rainy days – and we are extremely thankful that OTF saw fit to allow us that safety net that should see us get through another 40 years with this equipment. Hopefully the government in power then will be as generous.”
Brett Weltman press secretary for the minister of tourism culture and sport said this decision was about responsible finances.
“Unfortunately the previous Liberal government’s wasteful and irresponsible handling of the province’s finances left us with a $15 billion deficit which has forced us to make tough decisions. Every area of government shares a commitment to spend taxpayer dollars responsibly and every area of government is looking for opportunities to find efficiencies within their budgets while continuing to fulfill our mandate for the people of Ontario” he wrote.
OTF will continue to support the non-profit sector and invest in “programs that support healthy and vibrant communities.” OTF has invested $68 million this 2018-2019 fiscal year to benefit 383000 people in Ontario. He added the provincial government will continue to support the communities of Ontario and will provide OTF with $100 million in base funding for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
When asked to clarify where the announced $15 million will be cut from he did not respond.
As far as MPP Laurie Scott knows the $15 million withdraw was not earmarked for anything specific.
“I guess the Liberals promised to increase it or do something but it was one of those things before the election promised but [they] never actually did it. So it is the same funding as it was last year the $100 million” she said.
She said $68 million has already been invested in the province. Scott said this wasn’t a reduction; $100 million base funding was kept the same as the previous year.
Asked about how OTF remains an important source of money for the Highlands Scott reiterated the minister’s statement that this announcement is about being fiscally responsible.
“We’ve got a $15 billion deficit. Yes I support the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the work it does across our communities. It’s a great program to work collaboratively with our groups especially our small groups out there but we do have unfortunately a $15 billion deficit and Liberals promised this but didn’t come through with it” she said.
None of the previously approved grants will be affected Scott said.
Blake said despite the withdrawal of expected money from the budget there is still $100 million worth of grant money available. There is still an opportunity to apply for OTF grants even if there may be fewer projects funded.
That said Blake doesn’t see the provincial government cuts slowing down any time soon.
“They’re obviously going through every program and doing the same thing. There’s going to be less for all these different things” he said.