Backlash builds over pickleball funding following Alberta budget

A grant handed out by Alberta’s provincial government earlier this week is receiving some backlash on social media.

The $40,000 grant was given to the Red Deer Pickleball Club during a cheque presentation with Education Minister and Red Deer North MLA Adriana LaGrange.

The funding is earmarked for upgrades to the club’s facility and courts.

But LaGrange’s tweet touting the funding sparked negative backlash, with many social media users wondering why money is being given to a pickleball club amid layoffs and belt-tightening in other government departments.

“I appreciate the importance of recreation,” Twitter user Patti Yackulic wrote. “But the Red Deer Pickleball Club doesn’t serve many people, if any, who suffer extreme financial woes.”

“We’re broke according to your leader,” another user wrote. “Yet there’s money for pickleball, whatever the heck that is.”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) agreed with the negative reaction, saying the government needs to prioritize.

Franco Terrazzano, the Alberta director of the CTF, said the government has been right to promote the need for spending restraint as the province grapples with a forecast deficit of more than $8 billion and a $60 billion debt that continues to rise.

“There’s nice-to-haves and need-to-haves and this government needs to focus on the need-to-haves,” Terrazzano said. “Quite frankly, Albertans voted in this government to get our finances back in order, they didn’t vote in this government to be giving out tax dollars for pickleball.”

The grant in question was doled out by the Ministry of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women.

According to the ministry, the government provides funding to 1,200 organizations every year.

“Our budget prioritizes front line and vital services, while doing so we are also ensuring that sport, wellness, arts, culture and many other valuable services are funded,” ministry spokesperson Danielle Murray, said.

Ministry officials said all applications to the community grants program are weighed on eligibility of the project and how it aligns with the criteria outlined by the ministry.

“The department actually makes that decision and they have certain criteria they have to go through and they fulfilled the criteria,” Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer said.

Political scientist Duane Bratt said the outrage towards the grant is unwarranted.

Bratt said the funding for grants comes from the Alberta Lottery Fund, a program that takes revenues from lottery tickets, casinos and video lottery terminals and donates it back to community groups through grants. Although the fund was scrapped in the recently passed Bill 22, the ministry said funds enter general revenues and are still allocated for community groups.

“This is how it works — the money that you’re paying has already been directed,” Bratt said.

“I’m going to give the UCP a pass here, they’re doing what any other government would do. The optics may be difficult but it’s a separate pool of money.”

The Ministry of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women is entering the next fiscal year with a budget of $218 million, $18 million less than last year.

According to the budget, the ministry’s operating budget will be reduced to $158 million by 2022-2023, and contributions to the community initiatives program and other initiatives program will see a cut of $56.8 million over the same timeframe.

The Red Deer Pickleball Club did not respond to Global News’ request for comment.

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