Who owns Caribana?

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE

Depending on who one listens to, this year’s Caribana was either the biggest and the best Caribana ever (where did we hear that one before?) or it was not as big as anticipated, but on par with last year.

Either way, it was a great party … our party.

Our party?

It seems to us that a local financial institution has taken over “our party”. In fact, that is the impression that some out-of-town folks got when they heard or read of the festival and its new name. One reader from Nova Scotia wanted to know if Caribana still belonged to the “Caribbean community”.

Actually, we don’t really know the answer to that.

We used to know who owned Caribana. At least, we thought we knew that it was the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), which ran it for the better part of 40 years before the City took it over a couple of years ago.

But, if the CCC had owned it, the City couldn’t have taken it away, could they?

It reminds us of the old saying, “he who pays the piper, calls the tune”.

For the past several years, the City of Toronto, together with the province, poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the annual Caribana, once it became clear that the festival was a huge money maker that injected some $300 million into the economy each summer.

The problem is that the folks at the CCC either didn’t quite understand how important the festival had become or they didn’t believe the festival could be run without them.

When the City made the move to take over the festival or, more accurately, to de-fund the CCC (which amounts to the same thing) it was out of utter frustration with the in-fighting, the belligerence, the intransigence, the lack of professionalism and the failure each year to properly account for the funding.

When Councillor Joe Mihevc, the City’s liaison with the CCC, made the decision to pull the funds, very few voices were heard in protest. We had all become very tired of the CCC’s shenanigans. We also knew Mihevc as one of the good guys who had fought very hard – even against fellow councillors – to help the CCC over the years.   

It was difficult to look the other way, but it was apparent that the CCC was not ever going to change for the better.

Now, however, we are left to wonder: Where exactly does this festival stand in relation to our community? Who owns it?

Mihevc, wisely, set up a committee of people largely from the community to oversee Caribana. Heading that committee (from the outset, actually) is Joe Halstead, who has had a long and respected career in municipal government as a senior manager, both in North York and then in the City of Toronto following amalgamation.

The Jamaican-born Halstead knows the ropes and seems to have been able to gain the trust of the folks at City Hall, as well as some in the corporate sector.

He and his committee have done a creditable job running the festival. (Which means that the folks at the CCC were wrong when they thought that they were the only ones who could run it.)

It is also quite a relief that we no longer have to endure the kind of behaviour that emanated out of the CCC’s office. By the way, where are all those loudmouths who made life so difficult at the CCC? How come they are so quiet? Is it that they only had mouth when Black folks were in charge?

With the CCC there was a membership we could point to as representative of our community, giving us a sense that we had a say in “our festival”. Now, that is not the case. We don’t know who are pulling the strings, making the decisions or directing the future of this event. And that is troubling.

This festival came about – and was sustained, especially in the early years – through the hard work and dedication of many people, some of whom put up their own meager funds to keep it going. That must count for something.

Have we, as a community, lost Caribana? Does the City now own the festival? Does the bank? Do we care?

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