City wanted to take over carnival

By Arnold Auguste Wednesday September 05 2012 in Opinion
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I believe that Councillor Joe Mihevc, the City of Toronto’s liaison to the carnival festival, wanted to take the carnival away from the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), founders and owners of Caribana, for some time before he actually did.

 

Once it was determined (some years ago) that this festival was bringing in some $300-million to the area’s economy each year, it was just a matter of time that the government would want to be able to exercise more control over it. Now that the figure is up to $450-million, it’s even worse.

 

Mihevc says he pulled the funding because the board did not provide timely financial statements. That is partly true. But, there was more going on. Or, as they say, there was more to the story.

 

The people on the board were not dummies (although you wouldn’t know that by the way they behaved sometimes). They were mostly professional people and would have known the importance of producing financial statements in a timely fashion.

 

I believe there was a lot of frustration on the part of board members. For one thing, they all were volunteers of whom a lot was expected and demanded. And, yes, nobody forced them to volunteer but when it was learned that so much money was being made by everyone else except the people who were running the festival, I believe the frustration carried over into the meetings board members were having with Mihevc.

 

Maybe they felt they should have received a little more help from the city, the province and the feds in terms of funding to hire competent staff to look after such things as proper bookkeeping and accounting.

 

Actually, the Festival Management Committee (FMC), which is now running the festival, has a well-paid, fulltime staff, especially during the carnival season, and good accountants.

 

I understand the meetings between Mihevc and board members got very hot at times to the point where he just didn’t want to meet with them anymore.

 

While this was happening, he was also having regular meetings with representatives of the carnival bandleaders who were pressing him to allow them to deal directly with the city and not through the CCC.

 

The relationship between the bandleaders and the CCC had been deteriorating for a long time and they wanted out. For one thing, the bandleaders felt that it was the CCC which was holding up their funding while it was actually the city which was (and still is) constantly late. In fact, the bandleaders are still crying the blues to get their money which is never early enough to suit their purposes. (Isn’t it interesting that we don’t hear the kind of complaining from the bandleaders against the FMC that we used to hear against the CCC with regard to funding? I guess now they realize who the real culprit was and that it was not the CCC.)

 

By the way, they are also getting less money than they used to get before because the city has cut its funding and the province, which used to match the city’s funds, now requires the FMC to re-apply each year for a grant. This year they only received $350,000 from the province where, in the past, they got closer to $500,000 when they got matching funds. And the federal government only gave them $30,000 where in the past they got $100,000.

 

What this all means is that the bandleaders are getting less money but they can’t speak out because this is kinda what they asked for. Also, the FMC has them over a barrel. They know that if they complain, their funding for the following year (as little as it is) could be affected. (Could you imagine what would have happened if the CCC tried that?)

 

The reason Mihevc was finally able to take the carnival away from the CCC without fear that the parade would be affected is that he received assurances from the bandleaders that they would work with him.

 

So, here was Mihevc, upset with these CCC people constantly demanding more money and probably threatening to cancel carnival (please note the word ‘probably’) on the one hand, and the bandleaders who actually produce the bands for the carnival parade in his office every Monday morning reassuring him that they could go it alone without the CCC, and the decision was not quite as difficult as it should have been.

 

The problem, though, is that the bandleaders, by the nature of what they do and the artists they are, are very competitive. While they have made laudable efforts to come together under a single banner, it is not quite clear if they are able, even now, to put the interest of the whole against their own.

 

Take, for example, the way some bands, especially the bigger ones, hog the limelight at the carnival parade seemingly without any respect for other bands, especially those behind them. That’s how come three bands were shut out of this year’s parade. They all know how many bands are in the parade and how much time is allotted for them to move on and off the stage and onto Lake Shore Blvd. to give way to the others.

 

So, there were some serious concerns. Can the larger bands be trusted to be fair, not only with each other, but with the smaller bands? How would they accommodate the steelbands and the calypsonians? With the money they are receiving already tight, would they keep it all for themselves? Would they shut out smaller bands? Would they reduce the number of bands so that they each could get more money? Would they cut out the calypsonians and the steelbands?

 

To their credit, the bandleaders had begun to set up a committee to handle the administrative functions, but there was a question as to whether a committee selected by them could be impartial.

 

I once suggested to Louis Saldenah that it was a bad idea for the bandleaders to take over the running of the festival. I told him that, although he had won the Band of the Year for a number of years (at that time I think it was 12), if he was running the festival and his band won everybody will say “he thief”.

 

That’s how the FMC came into being. The idea was to recruit qualified people from the community who are able to liaise with government, the community and potential sponsors in a manner that will build respect for the festival and to assist the CCC to get their house in order. It was never for them to take it away. At least, that was my understanding at the time.

 

But there were some real issues to consider. The CCC was deeply in debt and any monies coming into its account could be exposed to creditors. It was decided that if the FMC was to run the festival it would have to set up its own bank account. To do so, it would have to be incorporated as a separate entity with at least a president and secretary.

 

In organizations where there is a membership and elections of officers, these jobs change and the changes are registered in the corporation’s minutes. When there is no membership and no election of officers, the same people who initially incorporated the company continue to be the officers, regardless of who they hire to run the organization. Which is why there is so much concern now over who owns the carnival festival.

 

Mihevc had no right, legally or otherwise, to take the festival away from its founders and owners and give it to someone else to run. More importantly, the fact that he gave it to people with no history of being involved in this city’s carnival, no stake in it, is very troubling indeed.

 

However, there are some important things worth noting. For one, the various levels of government have been reducing the funding to the FMC. But there is no outcry from the community. That is because members of the community no longer see the carnival as theirs. Especially after one of the principals of the FMC said that he only has to report to the city and the sponsors, and not to the community. So, they are, for all intents and purposes, on their own.

 

Another is that people are no longer volunteering as they used to. After all, if it is not their festival, why kill themselves to make other people rich?

 

From what I understand, this might also be affecting the bandleaders, some of whom have seen a decline in the number of people volunteering. That may be the reason some people didn’t get the costumes they paid for as they were not made.

 

That could seriously impact the already struggling bandleaders who may now find themselves having to hire paid staff, increasing the pressure on the FMC to find more money for them.

 

This festival very well might end up as the fabled golden goose that got killed.

 

  • brooke said:

    Dear Mr. Auguste:
    Sincerest thanks for your continued efforts in bringing this matter to the public’s attention. I truly believe that the public is not “yet” fully aware of the potential loss to our community if this great Festival goes under.
    Now understanding that the CCC did business very sloppily it should also be understood (not pointing fingers) that those within the CCC that caused the demise in 2004 and 2005 due to NOT producing an unqualified audit (as requested by the city) were not around to take the brunt of the verbal and emotional abuse that they were faced with in 2006 when the ?? hit the fan, it was the new elected Board that faced the barrage of criticism and continue to do so.

    We, you, me and Joe public have every right to criticize when things go bad because we want to see that the org. runs well; however, when things are done right and people stand up for the org, we must also be BIG enough to commend them for it. This would be a perfect time to commend Mr. Henry Gomez, and his Board of directors for “standing strong” against all odds, for keeping a low profile, working diligently to keep the CAG afloat, not going to the media and not gossiping to all and sundry, frankly speaking if not for Mr. Gomez and his current Board the name CARIBANA would have been buried just in the last couple of years.

    What gives me strength and determination to forge ahead is simple – my CARIBBEAN PRIDE more so my TRINIDADIAN PRIDE. Just take a minute and think about this, we – all Caribbean people are considered by the North American and world standards as “third world country” people; yet we are able to bring our talent, labour, togetherness, volunteerism, and sometimes our own money to stage NORTH AMERICA LARGEST STREET FESTIVAL, one that creates over 450 million dollars – the LARGEST ECONOMIC INJECTION into the CANADIAN economy WITHIN A 2 WEEK PERIOD. Take a breath and think about this, and we receive absolutely NO APPRECIATION/RECOGNITION FOR THIS-NONE FROM ANY GOVERNMENT!. When last have you heard an AWARD for CARIBANA’S contribution in the Arts. Take a look at the City of Toronto Awards and see who and what receives an award. It seems to me the ole “divide and conquer” rule is still being applied and the worst is that as brilliant as we are today – we still fallin fuh it. WAKE UP PEOPLE do not let our geographic location (one island vs. another) be the cause of a collective demise.

    My thinking is a bit different than most by this I mean even though there were few within the CCC that may have acted inappropriately during their tenure, it does not mean that the organization must suffer for the likes of a few. If specific individuals are not worthy of being in the Org; we must have the will and guts to say so with our ballots – it should not be personal but professional.

    Now getting to the Festival itself, since 2006, the FMC lost support from many in the community, the attendance has been significantly reduced year after year, the bandleaders still do NOT get paid “on time”, one of their sore points with the CCC, the Calypsonians still do not do anything with their music in terms of promotions and sales in a meaningful manner, the steelbands are now being almost pushed out of the parade; why? it’s because “they take too long to go down the Parade route” ha ha ha what a laugh, this year after much to do about removing them completely off the Parade route, they finally decided to have the Steelbands go down the route before the Parade, guess what folks the Parade was still jammed up within an hour of the mas Bands going down the route. There is absolutely NO SECURITY, no community people want to volunteer now; most hundreds don’t even go to the Parade, they hold huge “backyard BBQ’s” and invite all their friends and visiting relatives and have a great time; unfortunately the masqueraders are the ones paying for this by putting themselves at security risk on the Parade and contemplate stop playing mas.

    I know this comment may cause some to pause (especially non Trinidadians) but the facts are Pan is an integral part of Carnival and must be, it’s the culture, without it there is no Carnival. Calypso is part of the Carnival as much as Pan and Mas is; you cannot separate any of these art forms – THEY ARE WHAT MAKES CARNIVAL,but how do you educate those who have their eyes only on the prize – Parade (to get in the tourist dollars and those who are looking for a paycheck). To some of us it’s more than a paycheck or the tourist dollars.
    Imagine that Jane and Finch was targeted specifically by CARIBANA to stage the children Carnival there in an attempt to raise awareness of the neighbourhood, a neighbourhood often time being in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The idea to bring some measure of joy and happiness to kids in this area; the Yorkgate Mall has been a significant Sponsor in this Festival, after 11 years of supporting this Festival Yorkgate Mall did not receive the courtesy of a phone call from the organizing body until late March with news that the Festival was being moved out to another location.

    Here is a prime example of people not knowing what they are doing – having no historical background or institutional knowledge of why decisions were made to stage Festivals in Jane/Finch, Eglinton Ave W and Malvern areas. The FMC were stacked with a couple of black faces, who were/are controlled by the city councillor and went along acting as though they owned this thing – acting against their own people with major disrespect, shameful, imagine the FMC had “media launch” for CARIBANA way up in the sponsor (bank) Tower with a list of names downstairs and would NOT allow the chairman of CARIBANA to enter, this man who had nothing to do with the demise of the CCC-he inherited the mess, but again what do they (FMC) know, not being around they probably did not even know this man is/was a chairperson, what’s even more interesting it is said that there were only white faces in that “media launch” except for about 3-4 blacks. During the Parade there is always a VIP tent which houses specially invited guests from the community, sponsors, and others, it said now there are few known people in this Tent and 95% whites, once the opening ceremony is over and one or two bands crosses the judging stage – the Tent is empty. Why you ask?, simple NO INTEREST in this black thing –WAKE UP PEOPLE.

    So after all the bickering and chastising is said and done, I strongly suggest that the community come in support of the CAG – it’s an organization that is still public, there is no one person/team that will be there forever, work on the constitution to ensure strict controls be put in place to remove people/individuals who are NOT supporting the goals and objects of the organization, meet with the FMC personnel and mediate a resolution to end the conflict between – the FMC and CCC and FMC must stop with its high handedness approach in dealing with CCC, meet with the mas bandleaders, calypsonians, and Steelbands reps in a formal setting and discuss how they forge a way forward. This will not be an easy task; everyone has an axe to grind, but at the end of day, we must be civil and agree to disagree but the goal must be to work together.

    I always believe that we are all one people and that WE can and must stick together despite our differences and be proud of who we are and in this instance what we have achieved in our collective contribution to our adopted home, CANADA.
    In celebration of our – T&T and Jamaica HAPPY 50th BIRTHDAY.

    Thursday September 06 at 4:38 pm
  • Henry Gomez said:

    Dear Mr. Auguste;
    It is heartening to note that you and a few observant, aware individuals are willing to speak up and warn the public about what seems to be the not-too-slow demise of a festival we have worked hard to build over the last 45 years.
    You have hit the nail on the head in many of your observations, but there is a lot more that the public is unaware of, as far as the take over of the CARIBANA™ Festival is concerned.
    The fact that CAG has remained relatively quiet does not mean that we have rolled over and played dead. We have simply refused to air our affairs in public, and are using other means to address a grave insult that has been done to our community. We are also aware of how readily some with other interests will cry “sour grapes” in response to any comments we may make. However, we will speak publicly when the time is right.
    It’s been a very rough road for us over the past few years, but if the support and appreciation we received from the Jane and Finch community is any indication of where our focus needs to be, then we know that we did right by having the CARIBANA™ Junior Carnival (Flags and Colours) there this year. With the support of the various community groups, Yorkgate Mall, Seneca College, Superintendent Dave McLeod, Councillor Anthony Perruzza, York West MP, Judy Sgro and other like-minded persons CAG will serve that community again next year.
    We thank all those who stepped up to give our children in the Jane and Finch community a sense of belonging, and to allow them to experience the healing and restorative powers of the Caribbean carnival arts.
    We thank you too and SHARE for keeping this issue at the forefront of our consciousness. The silent majority might find it difficult to remail silent much longer. And those who think they are holding the handle, well ….
    Sincerely,
    Henry Gomez B. A., B. Ed., M. F. A., OCT
    Chair
    CARIBANA™ ARTS GROUP

    Saturday September 08 at 1:17 am

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