Indigenous and Racialized businesses in the Church-Wellesley Village should be eligible for the Government of Ontario's RAISE Grant, but many are worried that because their businesses acknowledge sexuality and carry products "of a sexual nature," they may be ineligible for the grant. On December 4th, I wrote to Minister Michael Ford to tell him that his Ministry needed to grow up, stop codifying sex-negative attitudes, and open the RAISE grant to all deserving Indigenous and Racialized applicants. I will be keeping you updated with the Minister's response when I receive it.
December 4, 2023
Re: Supporting Indigenous and Racialized Entrepreneurs Equitably
To the Honourable MPP Michael Ford
Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism
Sent By Email
Dear Hon. Minister MPP Michael Ford,
I am reaching out because of serious equity-related concerns that local business owners in Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village brought to my attention.
As you know, your Ministry funds an initiative called the Racialized and Indigenous Supports for Entrepreneurs (RAISE) grant. The RAISE grant provides up to $10,000 to facilitate innovation, growth, training, and coaching for sustainable economic development to small business entrepreneurs from racialized or Indigenous backgrounds. This grant represents a potentially life-changing amount of money to entrepreneurs who are racialized or Indigenous in addition to being 2-Spirit, Queer, or Trans in the Church Wellesley Village area.
Unfortunately, and to the dismay of local small entrepreneurs, the government has added new exclusion criteria to this grant that disproportionately prevents 2SLGBTQI+ entrepreneurs from applying. The website lists that businesses with “displays of a sexual nature” cannot receive this grant. This ambiguous wording created confusion for local entrepreneurs leading them to follow up and learn that:
“A business with a primary activity related to products, services or displays of a sexual nature would be ineligible for the program. We consider a primary activity as a distinctive and indispensable component of how the business achieves its mandate. If the business has elements which contain products, services or displays of a sexual nature, a main factor for eligibility is whether those elements are a primary activity of the business or not.”
This definition appears to exclude many 2SLGBTQI+ businesses unduly. 2SLGBTQI+ businesses are going to talk about queer sex — and this government must grow up and live with this reality. Queer businesses offer many 2LSGBTQI+ Ontarians some of their first experiences seeing who they are and what they desire represented and validated— experiences that heterosexual Ontarians take for granted. I know that this government has not always embraced the importance of inclusive sexual education — but are adult Ministers afraid of discussing human sexuality? Without understanding why this criterion has been added, I wonder if businesses are being excluded because Ministers are embarrassed to declare that government grants to stimulate our economy sometimes stimulate more than just our economy.
Codifying sex-negative and shame-based attitudes in Ontario’s economic recovery benefits no one. Pandemic lockdowns uniquely harmed queer businesses in the Church Wellesley Village and across Ontario, because the Pride season festivals that anchor their annual budgets did not happen. These businesses are already struggling to navigate incompetent federal decision-making regarding the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan forgiveness deadlines failing to be adequately extended. It is demoralizing and distracting for these businesses to have to learn that programs they once could apply to have newly closed their doors for no clearly stated reasons.
I am further worried that anti-queer signals in this program are already hurting queer businesses. This grant is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. 2SLGTBQI+ businesses are being told that they need not apply, and even if this government changes its position, they will be competing for a reduced pool of funds. Deeper accountability is needed from this government as to how anyone thought these criteria were acceptable in 2023.
2SLGBTQI+ Ontario business owners deserve answers. I wish to know:
- When will you amend the criteria so that all Ontario businesses can apply?
- How will you ensure that 2SLGBTQI+ businesses are not unduly compromised because they must apply later?
- What steps will your Ministry take to explain how this criteria was added and avoid repeating this exclusionary decision?
If you have additional questions, I would be more than happy to help your Ministers or staff better understand diversity, equity, and inclusion. I can even suggest many 2SLGBTQI+ entrepreneurs who your Ministry might benefit from hiring. You can reach my office at [email protected].
Member of Provincial Parliament