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.