By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor
When Councillor Joe Mihevc, the City of Toronto’s liaison to the Caribana festival, decided five years ago to stop funding the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), he already had met several times, as I understand it, with representatives of the Toronto Mas Bands Association (TMBA), the folks whose bands form the Caribana parade each year, and had a commitment from them that they would work with him.
Actually, the plan was that the TMBA themselves would set up a committee to run the festival. And, again, as I understand it, they had already begun to set up that committee when Mihevc changed the plan and set up his own committee, which we have now come to know as the Festival Management Committee (FMC).
The idea of having the bandleaders running the festival was a non-starter for a number of reasons. For one thing, these people are highly competitive. After all, the parade is also a competition. Then there are bands of different sizes – the very large bands, the medium sized bands and the smaller and new bands. Would bandleaders running the show – especially the larger ones – be fair in their dealings with all the bands or would conflict of interest issues be a problem? Even if they were fair, there would be all kinds of suspicion and disenchantment.
Then, if the bandleaders were in charge, what would happen to the steelbands and the calypsonians, for example? Would any thought be spared for them? Would they be accommodated, especially financially? When the bandleaders get the little money the city and the province have set aside for them, would they be willing to share it?
So, Mihevc, once he understood the challenges, decided on setting up the FMC.
At the time Mihevc gave as his reason for defunding the CCC the fact – and it is a fact – that the CCC had not provided clean audits for the monies they had previously received.
But was that the only or even the main reason for the takeover?
The folks at the CCC – especially some of the people who were involved at the time – were a difficult bunch to deal with. I believe Mihevc just got tired of arguing with them constantly and listening to their myriad demands. But until the bandleaders assured him the parade would be safe, he could not have moved against the CCC. Once he had that assurance he felt free to act. It was the backing of the TMBA which empowered him.
While there were those – especially at the CCC – who felt that the change was a temporary one, from the very beginning I got the distinct feeling that Mihevc was playing for keeps. In fact I discussed this with him at the time. I suggested that this move should only be for a year or two at the most. His response was non-committal, something to the effect of “we will see”. That said a lot to me. That said there was something in the mortar besides the pestle. Now I know that I was right. He had no plans to return the festival to the CCC.
For one thing, the money the festival brings in to the city – almost half-a-billion dollars each summer – is serious money and, obviously, was seen as too important to leave to the whims of this small group of “combative” people. With that kind of money involved, it now seems that the intention was to have more control and the FMC – with the support of the bandleaders – allowed Mihevc and the city that control.
But why were the CCC folks so combative? Was it that they had grown tired of the disrespect they had been shown by the city and other levels of government with regard to this “golden goose” over the years? Was it the sense of serfdom they felt they had been relegated to? Was it the fact they felt that they and their community were being used by the powers that be who continued to expect a great show to bring in the money but was steadfastly unwilling to step up with the necessary financial support, as they do – and have done many times – for other, less profitable festivals and events?
The bandleaders felt that by changing their allegiance from the CCC to the city they would be better off, but are they? Are they getting more money? Are they getting their money any quicker than they used to? Is the FMC getting enough money to pay their bills or are they still being treated the way the CCC used to be?
One of the problems back then was that the bandleaders didn’t feel they had a choice. The folks at the CCC were not only expressing their frustration on Mihevc and the government funders, they were also belligerent towards the bandleaders. So, when the what-you-may-call-it hit the fan, the CCC couldn’t count on the support of the bandleaders. If they were able to present a common front, that takeover by the city would never have happened.
So there is enough blame to go around. But it is worth the effort to try and understand the frustrations of everyone involved.
The FMC can now boast of how well they have been doing running the festival and the fact that they provide timely financial statements to the city and other funders. But, what do you expect when the FMC staff get paid big bucks to do just that. Had the CCC received real money to pay competent accounting staff, for example, things might have been different. You can’t expect optimal outcomes from sub-optimal inputs.
As it stands now, the successor to the CCC, the Carnival Arts Group (CAG), is on the outside fighting to get their festival back; the FMC is still struggling to find the money to pay its bills and to provide the seed (chicken feed) money for the bandleaders and the bandleaders are still working for next to nothing while the folks in the big house are laughing all the way to the bank (no pun intended).
Is there a better way? Well, for one thing, the stakeholders should at least begin to speak with each other. The CAG, the TMBA, the calypso association and the steelband people should put their differences aside and focus on their common interests, prime of which is to be fairly compensated out of that almost half-a-billion dollars for the excellent work they do. (In past years I have also heard the city’s tourism people, hoteliers, restaurateurs and others referred to as stakeholders. Are we that stupid? They are the stake-takers, the beneficiaries of the work and toil of the real stakeholders.)
And, by the way, this festival belongs to the CAG. It was their predecessors, the many from our community who, for four decades, put their hearts and souls – and lots of their personal money – into building Caribana into something of which we all could be proud; into the largest festival of its kind in North America today. The city and the other “johnnies-come-lately” see only the big bucks it now represents but we see – or should see – this as the magnificent manifestation of the culture of Caribbean people and something of which we and our children must always be proud. Letting others who know nothing of our culture and who care even less run our festival is not the legacy we need to leave for future generations.