Is there a plan in the works to take Caribana private?

By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Editor

When the people at the City of Toronto who handled the Caribana file decided to cut funding to the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), the founders and, for the first 39 years, the producers of the festival, they were within their rights.

Governments of all stripes provide – and cut – funding to non-profit cultural and other groups and organizations at will. Nothing new there.

What was different this time is that the City not only cut the funding to the CCC but diverted the money to another entity which was established for the purpose.

That was wrong. It also showed a complete lack of respect for the Black and Caribbean community.

Can you imagine any government body cutting, for example, funding to the organizers of the Pride festival and then giving the funds to another group to run the Pride parade?

We understand why Councilor Joe Mihevc, the city’s Caribana liaison, decided that he had enough with the folks at the CCC and didn’t want to work with them anymore. Most of us had grown tired of the constant in-fighting, controversies and lack of accountability on the part of the various boards that ran the organization over the years. No matter who took charge, nothing seemed to change.

But, did he have the right to set up another body to run the festival?

It would be safe to say that very few of us would want to see the end of Caribana. And, with the city not providing the necessary funding – which was matched each year by the province for a total of close to $1 million – it would have been near impossible for the CCC to produce it.

Add to that the fact that the CCC would also need permits from the police and the health department and would need to make arrangements for garbage removal and other services all of which come within the purview of the city, and it becomes an impossible proposition.

So, yes, it more than likely would have meant the end of Caribana as we know it.

This, however, was not an option for the city. There is no way they would forego the some $400 million an Ipsos Reid study of the 2009 Caribana festival noted is injected into the city’s economy each year.

That’s how we ended up with the Festival Management Committee (FMC).

Our initial understanding was that the city’s intervention was going to be for a couple of years at best as the city tried to work with the CCC which, incidentally, had reorganized itself, wrote a new constitution and was renamed the Caribana Arts Group (CAG) in an effort to meet what was thought to be the city’s requirements for running the festival.

Obviously, we were wrong. That does not seem to be an option anymore, if ever it was.

Caribana is not only a wonderful showcase of Caribbean cultural talent, it has the potential to be a very profitable endeavour, especially if it is taken out of public (the community’s) hands. We have long known this. And, it is our understanding there have been several efforts over the years by different groups or individuals to try and capitalize on this potential by taking it private.

Share readers who are interested in all things Caribana will remember our efforts some years ago to derail a plan spearheaded by a former city liaison to Caribana, which would have seen the entire parade take place inside the CNE where the people who now gather each year on Lakeshore Boulevard to enjoy it for free would have had to pay an entrance fee to get in to see it. After we campaigned against that plan, it was cancelled. We understand that contracts had already been signed and had to be torn up.

So, the fact that the city and the FMC continue to hold on to the festival now is worrisome. Could there be a plan afoot again to take Caribana private?

Some people have been wondering about the bank’s involvement and the secrecy surrounding the dealings conducted behind closed doors to which we, as a community, and the rightful claimants to an implied ownership of this festival, have not been privy.

But, we don’t believe that the bank would jump into something this messy. For them, it is an amazing opportunity to get a lot of inexpensive publicity.

So, what is afoot here? If there’s a plan by some people to take Caribana private, does Mihevc know of or condone it? He has been very quiet for the past three years. It is time we heard from him.

We have always seen Mihevc as one of the good guys. He worked very hard for years with the old CCC boards and, from what we understand, took quite a bit of abuse from a few of the people who were involved back then. When it wasn’t that, we understand that he was being bombarded with complaints from different competing factions. He must have felt that he was in an unwinnable position.

He must understand, though, that this festival will not be easily and inexpensively taken over by any individual, group, corporation or private interest. And, if it means that we will have to call him on it, especially now that he is running for re-election in the City of Toronto elections in October, he must consider that we are doing just that.

If the City (or any private group, for that matter) insists on taking over this festival, adequate remuneration must be provided for those responsible for making it happen, meaning more money for the bandleaders (and their members, the masqueraders who, at the very least, should not have to pay for their costumes), the steelbands and their players, the calypsonians and other artistes and musicians involved in Caribana. They must be put on notice that all those people who volunteer each year will now have to be paid. They will have to pay all the marshals, for example, and all those good people who have been helping to make Caribana happen all these years.

If they succeed in taking over Caribana, they are now warned that it will be very expensive.

Those involved in producing Caribana may also want to start talking with representatives of the major unions representing city workers or artistes in the entertainment industry for guidance on how they can demand and receive adequate compensation for the work performed if the festival goes private.

Or the City, the FMC or whoever think they now own Caribana could just give it back.

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