My column/post this week on the Ontario Music Fund’s lack of transparency and exaggerated impact has elicited numerous private responses from people frustrated by the program (some public too) as well as some comments from the Ontario Media Development Corporation. Speaking to FYI Music, OMDC unsurprisingly defend the program and its results. However, the comments appear to confirm that claims about the impact of the program by Michael Coteau, the Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport, were inaccurate.
Coteau spoke to Karen Bliss, Billboard’s Canadian correspondent, in April 2015 about the Ontario Music Fund. As part of the interview, Coteau was asked about auditing or vetting where the money was spent:
The reports that we get from our agency [the OMDC] that have come from the companies that actually received money in the previous year, the overall numbers that we get from our agency is that there’s been a 60 percent growth in the area that they were funded, 2000 jobs have been created and over $24 million in new revenue have been brought forward in that sector.
Those comments led me to seek out the source of Coteau’s claims. I filed an access to information request with the Ministry seeking three things:
1. All records of reports sent to the Minister or Minister’s office reporting on the first year of the Ontario Music fund and its recipients.
2. All records that provide the basis for growth, job estimates, and new revenue data cited by the Minister.
3. All reports submitted by funded recipients from the first year of the Ontario Music Fund.
The Ministry responded that there were no records for #1 and #2. When I inquired how that could be, I was told:
OMDC provided the final reports from grant recipients to MTCS (item #3) and nothing more. Any analysis and reports to the Minister’s Office (items #1 & 2) were done by MTCS (not OMDC).
OMDC later advised that the reports in #3 would not be disclosed due to exemptions under the Act, but they worked to provide de-identified data which indicated the creation of 263 full-time jobs. The OMDC may now be citing part-time jobs to reach the 620 job mark. Regardless, both figures are well below Coteau’s claim of creating 2,000 new jobs.
As for the remainder of the OMDC response to FYIMusic, officials simply seek to assure the public that they have a rigorous internal review and that the applications contain sensitive commercial information. That issue is currently the subject of an appeal, but the claim that there can be no disclosure of grant objectives, planned activities or planned outcomes appears to go well beyond safeguarding sensitive commercial information.
In fact, some of the recipients are not commercial entities at all. Millions of dollars from the Ontario Music Fund has been allocated to non-commercial groups who do not compete in the market and their reasons for withholding information often has little to do with commercial concerns. For example, one applicant is currently arguing:
such information could be used by detractors or ‘policy foes’ to attempt to draw attention to shortcomings in the applicant’s achievement of intended goals, or to expose and publicly ridicule the applicant’s business aspirations.
It is difficult to see how this qualifies as a commercial concern or a reasonable justification to withhold information on a government program that has doled out tens of millions of dollars. Yet months after the program launch and the information request, basic details on how Ontario Music Fund money was spent remains a secret.