Festival in sleaze row

Kerfuffle over Montral funding

The Montreal Comedy Festival has become embroiled in a political row in Canada.

Ministers have been forced to defend their decision to increase funding for the Just For Laughs event, just as the festival hired a long-time friend of Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

Heritage Minister Sheila Copps has inisisted the two events were not linked.

Her department tripled its grant by $100,000 (£44,000) last year, the same year as the PM's former aide Jean Carle was hired as a festival vice-president.

But Copps, who said the government was spending more on cultural events across the board, insisted: "In fact, this funding was given even before he ever came to the board."

However, Opposition MP Cheryl Gallant asked in the Commons: "How much are Canadian taxpayers going to have to shell out to keep the Prime Minister's friends quiet?

Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper reported that Copps approved the extra Just For Laughs cash last November.

Festival spokesman Michele Bazin also denied any link between Carle's hiring and the festival's pursuit of federal funds.

He said the festival received more federal money last year because the event is growing, and "we must not forget that the share of tobacco sponsorship is no longer available and has only been partly replaced by the Quebec government".

He added: "If, in 2001, we received more money than the year before from the federal government, it's simply because we submitted more projects,"

Carle was formerly at the Business Development Bank of Canada, a role he left in September following a row over a loan to a hotel in the Prime Minister's constituency.

Overall government funding for Just For Laughs shot up to $1.7million (£750,000) last year from $1.2million (£530,000) the previous year, according to documents obtained by the Globe. The event's total budget is $17million (£7.5million).

Copps added that the comedy festival, which drew more than a million punters last year, receives far less federal money than symphony orchestras, which draw smaller audiences.

Published: 5 Feb 2002

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