A review of how the province shares its gambling profits with community groups must restore slashed grants to former levels and curtail Victoria's ability to interfere in the future, charity advocates say.
The Community Gaming Grant Review, announced Monday 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.
It will be headed by former Kwantlen Polytechnic University president Skip Triplett.
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.
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.
Rich Coleman, the former minister in charge of gaming, had defended the cuts as necessary to shore up B.C.'s budget amid a deepening global recession and said the reallocations were geared to protect youth groups at the expense of organizations serving adults.
Marsden accused Coleman of putting his personal anti-arts stamp on the decision and said she hopes the review ensures nothing similar can happen again.
"We need to get government at arm's length from this," she said.
"In the short term, we need to get all of the charities funded again to the levels they were in 2008. In the long term, we need to look at stability, at legislation that enshrines the funding formula."
Marsden praised Clark for delivering on her pledge of a review and said the terms of reference are acceptable – except that Triplett won't report until the end of October.
"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."
Many non-profit groups are "on life support" after cutting staff and switching to cheaper accommodation, she said.
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.
The review is to collect input from charities, community members, industry reps and local government.
“This review is not just about how much money we can share," said Ida Chong, minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
"It's about the process we use to decide together who should have access to this funding, what we can do with it and how we are accountable for it.”
For more information, including upcoming community forums, see www.communitygaminggrantreview.gov.bc.ca.