The Ontario government is defending a grant for this year’s Jesus in the City parade to an evangelical Christian group associated with a friend of Premier Doug Ford — the controversial Rev. Charles McVety, a vocal opponent of the updated sex education curriculum and same-sex marriage.
An annual event since 1999, the downtown parade with floats and marching bands will be held Sept. 7 starting at Queen’s Park. It was given $12,078 under the Celebrate Ontario program, which also provides money to events such as Taste of the Danforth and Pride.
McVety has previously thanked Ford on social media for helping to rescue “our 15th annual Jesus in the City parade” when it was cancelled with two weeks’ notice by the city of Toronto in 2014. Ford was on city council at the time.
“We tried to get it restored but to no avail,” McVety added in a Feb. 6, 2018 post. “I bumped into Doug Ford and he said I will fix it. He dragged me onto the (city) council floor to the city manager’s desk and he saved the parade.”
McVety did not reply to a query about his role in the parade, but noted in the same post that Ford “is a faithful man and marches in the parade.” He asked readers to support Ford for Progressive Conservative leader last year to bring “a new direction to save our children and restore the economy.”
The NDP said it’s curious the event received provincial funding when other events like SuperCrawl, an arts and music festival in Hamilton, did not get money this year as Celebrate Ontario was trimmed by Ford’s Progressive Conservative government.
“I smell another gravy train ticket for one of his cronies,” said New Democrat MPP Jill Andrew (Toronto-St. Paul’s). “This is a chronic issue for the Ford government.”
McVety told the Star he did not apply for the money, saying that was handled by Ayanna Solomon, president of Festival of Praise International, which puts on the parade with support from a number of sponsors.
“I was not involved in this grant,” McVety wrote in an email.
Solomon did not reply to a request for comment.
Ford invited McVety to be one of his small entourage at City TV’s provincial leaders’ debate before last year’s provincial election, and was taken on a tour of churches by McVety in Ford’s run for the party leadership, during which he courted social conservatives. The premier also agreed to appear at a Christmas celebration run by McVety last December at Canada Christian College.
Andrew said she is surprised the parade meets the criteria for a grant, given the 22-page application guide for Celebrate Ontario specifies “ineligible events” as ones that “seek to attract only a special interest audience or recruit new members (e.g., religious or political gatherings and workshops).”
“It doesn’t even look like this qualifies,” Andrew said.
Ford’s office referred questions about the funding to the office of Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Lisa MacLeod, which said the parade is open to the public, as are all other events funded through the same program.
“Jesus in the City’s Celebrate Ontario funding application was evaluated using the same program guidelines as all other applications. Jesus in the City, along with more than 250 other festivals across the province, met the eligibility criteria and received funding from this grant program,” spokesman Derek Rowland told the Star in an email.
He noted funding was provided to “similar applications,” including MuslimFest 2019, Diwali RazzMatazz, Festival de Noel 2019, and Nowruz Festival 2020.
Ford has been under fire in recent weeks for a cronyism scandal that resulted in the departure of his trusted chief of staff, Dean French.
French, an Etobicoke insurance broker, left hours Ford revoked lucrative patronage appointment as Ontario’s trade representatives in London, England and New York City after it was revealed the jobs were given to a cousin of French’s wife and a 26-year-old friend of his son.
So far, seven Conservative appointees have been fired from or resigned their posts.
Get The Lead Newsletter
Register or sign in today to start getting your whip-smart guide to the 2019 Canadian federal election in your inbox.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1