Carnival always at risk

By Arnold Auguste Thursday August 30 2012 in Opinion
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By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor

There have always been attempts by people to wrest control of the Toronto carnival from whoever was running it.

 

Back when it was run by the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) and known as Caribana, there always seemed to have been a dissident group of members at odds with whomever was in charge and that usually exhibited itself in quite ugly ways, especially during annual general meetings when the election of officers was being held.

 

There were occasions where people joined the organization with the sole purpose of taking it over. There were groups of people who ran on a slate to replace the entire board and assume full control.

 

While the motives of some might have been questionable – or at least, their behaviour – all of it was legal. Democracy, of course, can be messy at times.

This was a membership organization in which members could have a say in how it was run or criticize just for the sake of criticizing, as seems to have been the case much of the time.

 

Which made the organization seem more inept than it probably was although the constant infighting could explain why the business of the organization suffered as much as it did.

 

There were also people who were invited to assist in getting things back on track but they either saw the potential and looked for ways to take control or they were turned off by the mayhem and quickly removed themselves.

 

Then there was the political interference.

 

Initially, the city was not too big on this festival. Neither, for that matter, were the police. It was seen as more of an inconvenience and just a big party by and for Black and Caribbean people. Maybe that’s why they kept moving it, first from Yonge Street to University Avenue (which used to be a really great lime) and then to the Lake Shore. You don’t see them moving the Pride parade, do you?

 

Until surveys began to show how much money it was bringing into the city.

 

There was this one time when Councillor Joe Pantalone, the city’s then liaison to the festival – before Joe Mihevc – cooked up a scheme with the then CCC board to move the entire parade into the CNE. The plan was to have the parade start and end within the CNE and have everyone pay to see it. (I was reminded of this when I heard that the current organizers of the carnival, the Festival Management Committee, had moved the kiddies’ carnival from the Jane & Finch area to Downsview Park where, in time, they will, presumably, be able to charge admission.)

 

What was interesting about this is that Pantalone was, at the time, also head of the CNE board and the husband of then mayor, Barbara Hall, was heading the board at neighbouring Ontario Place.

 

Why would the CCC agree to such a deal? Well, they were convinced by whoever was advising them that they needed to make more money and that this was a sure way to do so. Make the people pay. I believe that sentiment is still alive and well in the minds of those now running the festival.

 

The first report showing that Caribana brought in some $300-million to the local economy had been released by then so I asked Pantalone if it was the intention to charge even more money to the folks who were already paying $300-million to see the parade. He didn’t have an answer for me. Neither was he able to answer how the CNE would accommodate the estimated one million visitors (actually, he said he thought that number was overstated) and how the CNE grounds would accommodate the community vendors who were able to make a little extra money during the festival since all the CNE booths are on long-term contracts (to people not from our community).

 

I was really upset with the CCC board at the time for going along with this nonsense. Then it occurred to me that all they heard was the chance to make more money and they trusted that their political friends had the best interest of the festival at heart.

 

The other thing I found troubling about that deal was that the CNE staff (usually not people from our community so our youth wouldn’t even have benefitted from the available jobs) would collect all the money, pay all the bills, including the cost of the use of the CNE grounds (really!), the garbage clean-up, security and whatever else, and then give what was left over to the CCC.

 

I asked Pantalone what would happen if there was no money left over or, more importantly, if there was a deficit and his response was that “the bills have to be paid”, which I took to mean that the CCC would be on the hook to make up the shortfall, drawing it deeper into debt. Which also made it clear that this was just a money grab to benefit the CNE.

 

I hung up on another councillor, this one on the former Metro council, who called to chasten me on the series of articles I had been writing on that issue. But the end result was that the agreement, which had already been signed, was torn up. We missed a bullet on that one.

 

So, there is a history here of others trying to take this festival away from our community or to benefit financially from it at our expense. This is nothing new.

 

All these people, including the principals of the FMC, know the value of this festival. They know the potential for financial success.

 

We, on the other hand, take it for granted; we just see it as a big party and we are so grateful that the powers that be allow us to enjoy ourselves. They must be laughing at how stupid we are.

 

That is why I keep insisting that we have to understand the value of what we have. This thing now brings in an estimated $450-million to the local economy. That’s huge. When we deal with sponsors, the city or whoever else, we need to do so from a position of strength in the knowledge of the value of what we have. We don’t have to beat anyone over the head with it but we have to understand the value of our contribution and insist that it be respected and rewarded accordingly.

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