Caribana, ownership versus control, part two

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday November 12 2014 in Opinion
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Caribana is the only surviving cultural organization formed to commemorate Canada’s 1967 Centenary. It was to be a one-time affair. In fact, until the late 1980s, police chiefs sought to shut down what one radio host called, “ni**ers jumping up downtown”. The Price Waterhouse study in 1989 showing Caribana’s immense economic impact changed that. Now, Toronto is Caribana city! The festival has had many challenges, including undeserved bad press, but as well, some publicity that genuinely hurts. Among these, for “financial mismanagement”.


However, truth be told, in its many decades, despite chronic underfunding, most of Caribana’s financial audits have been clean. Unqualified! However, 2003 was a year in which its audit was qualified. Why? Board members, realizing funds were missing, called the police due to a fellow member’s misconduct. He was charged and subsequently forced to repay the $3,000.00, plus costs.


But speaking of financial mismanagement, how has the City done? Has it been similarly excoriated? For example, in May 1999, the City of Toronto issued a Request for Quotations for the acquisition of new computers. One bid was first valued at $1,093,731; by July, at $43 million to the same group; and at $85 million by the time the deal was closed. Four key points: one is that there hadn’t been any proper documentation of these “negotiations”. Next, relations between the city representative and the company’s had gone “intimate”. Third, 13 years later, no City of Toronto representative has been charged.


And fourth, Caribana’s community name and ownership, like another Black child with the Children’s Aid Society, has been snatched. Thus, while Caribana should be celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2017, the present intent is that it does, but carrying the Anglo-Saxon name of a bank. In much the same way, so many of us, descendants of enslavement now carry European-based names. Iniquitous, but it fits.


We still own the festival. It’s only that others control it. Thus, when things go wrong, “Is Caribana”. But when it brings in the dollars, all credit belongs to the city and the Bank. In Black Toronto, ownership gets the blame; control gets the benefits.


It’s the same today with Africa globally. For example, when the bad news is about Ebola, Liberia’s name is high-decibel. However, when the good news is about diamonds, cosmetic and industrial, no one hears of Botswana and South Africa. In fact, the ironic tragedy of Africa is that its vast wealth is the endemic cause of its poverty. So, too, Caribana: a curse on us; a blessing to others.


So, does ownership also mean control? Not necessarily. These issues might best be assessed by trying to follow the money. A bird’s-eye view could assist. Among these are info provided by some official economic impact studies, plus comparative figures associated with other cultural enterprises in the province. The two fiscally questionable examples from Caribana ($3,000) and the City ($85 million) show what’s good for the goose isn’t always so for the gander.


The listed figures below are culled from past board reports and news from other sources. They include only a few of the years on record for these assessments. Those mentioned, however, provide useful data on the economic impact Caribana continues to have on revenues for the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and the federal government of Canada (TOC).


  • 1989. Price Waterhouse provides the first comprehensive analytics of the festival’s economic impact on TOC to be $489 million.
  • 2007. Then City of Toronto Mayor David Miller’s assessment on 40th anniversary “Caribana contributes more than $300 million”.
  • 2009. Joe Halstead, then Commissioner with the City of Toronto assesses the economic impact to be approximately $396 million.
  • 2010. Ipsos Reid Economic Impact Study’s figures: $438 million.
  • 2013. Ipsos Reid & Ryerson University Economic Impact Studies: $483 million.


It would have been useful having revenues for these actual years coming from the TOC to Caribana. Equally useful would be comparative revenues provided from TOC to cultural industries here; and their reciprocal contributions back to TOC. These figures for revenues to Caribana – generally within the same annual ranges – speak volumes to the challenges facing Caribana. They, as well, clarify the realities behind many of the negative perceptions had of it. And hopefully, possibilities going forward.


Caribana Revenues/Disbursements for one of its years: $1.2 million.


  • Caribana payouts i.e.:
  • Bandleaders: $610,000
  • Pannists: $80,000
  • Calypsonians:  $35,000
  • Totals: $725,000


Caribana payouts, City Services i.e.:       


  • Exhibition Place: $120,000
  • Police: $70,000 (paid in hard cash, no tax receipts)
  • Barricades: $55,000
  • Police cleanup (horse crap, etc.): $30,000
  • Pot-O-Lets (human waste, etc.):  $28,000
  • Totals: $423,000


Of the balance remaining, Caribana had to pay the following: staff, utilities, insurance, security, etc. Totals: approximately $150,000.


What’s the point? First, the above details the regular types of funds which this festival followed to bring in revenues which approximately, every five years conservatively earns the TOC approximately, $1 billion.


Second, by comparison, other cultural edifices like the Royal Ontario Museum average annual operating budgets of $51 million. Revenues average $60 million. It would take Caribana about 45 years to total what the ROM has in one year. And the ROM has more than four years to earn the revenue Caribana does in one week. The ROM is only one of several organizations with mainly Anglo-Saxon cultural orientations that have budgets and revenues.


Third, the figures above pertinent to Caribana, do not include the “sweat equity” provided by our many volunteers (approximately 150) who regularly work shifts above 10 hours, free. And have done so for four decades. Calculate the revenues sacrificed for the love of this festival by us. And for what, that others who care little for us otherwise, have at their services, guaranteed revenues yearly.


Fourth, what is equally sad is that while our community provides free labour annually – for a t-shirt, probably a meal, etc. – almost 100 per cent of those who get paid directly from the revenues of the festival are White. “If ah lie ah die!”


Fifth, and finally, what is Caribana’s primary challenge? One no other cultural enterprise with its financial magnitude has? Under-capitalization. However, to hear some public figures describe it; for example, City of Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc. In addition to those about “fiscal mismanagement”, he adds another. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Caribana’s problem is “Jamaican Trinidadian infighting”.


That’s all we need, a community already under the duress of anti-Black racism: charged with “Black on Black conflict”.


Thanks Joe!

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