By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
It seems to me that principals of the Festival Management Committee (FMC), the body set up by the City of Toronto to run the Caribbean carnival after it was taken away from the community, are spending more of their time looking for ways to raise money than ways to make the festival better.
Maybe that is just my impression, but what to make of the move this year to have most of the parade staged within the boundaries of the CNE where visitors will have to pay to see it?
From what I understand, the parade will take place on the CNE grounds with a short detour out onto the Lakeshore and back again into the CNE.
So, all the visitors (and local folks) who come into the city to see the spectacular parade this year will be disappointed unless, of course, they pay up to enter the CNE. These are the same folks who the city’s own figures show drop upwards of three hundred million dollars here during the festival.
The problem is that the FMC is suffering the same fate that the old CCC (the Caribbean Cultural Committee) suffered at the hands of the politicians and bureaucrats. They are being grossly underfunded for the staging of a festival the size and importance of this one.
These people were never too keen on properly funding this festival in the first place. When they realized how much money it brought into the city and when they heard from city businesses such as the hotels and restaurants how important the carnival was to them, instead of trying to work with the people who made it happen, they decided to take it over and control it. But still not fund it properly.
The fact though, is that we made it easy for them. It is not that we didn’t have or couldn’t find good, qualified people to run the festival, it is that the volunteers who ran it either didn’t understand the value of what they had or didn’t see the festival as much more than a giant party. And without the proper funding to hire competent paid staff to manage the festival long term, they were tripping over each other and more often than not pulling in different directions. In other words, they screwed up. And continued to do so, over and over again.
So, when the bandleaders got fed up with the shenanigans at the CCC and complained to the city, it was a cue for the city to move in and take it over. As my friend, Dr. Maurice Bygrave, quoted the Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno who wrote back in 2006, to paraphrase, that the city wanted to take this festival over a long time ago.
When city councillor, Joe Mihevc, the city’s liaison to the festival, announced that he was setting up the FMC to run the festival, there was not too much of a protest from the carnival-loving public. After all, they had been embarrassed so much and for so long by the CCC that it was difficult to get a rise out of them. I guess they were just hoping to put all the bad press and in-fighting behind them and move on.
And it seemed quiet for a while. The name was changed. Most people didn’t like it but they went along – for the sake of keeping the carnival going; for the sake of the culture.
But all is not well. The FMC has been struggling to meet its obligations.
And we are back to square one.
The move into the CNE is not a good one for the parade. This is a street festival. The CNE cannot, in all reality, pass for “the streets”. And, can the CNE hold the crowds that gather on Lakeshore, if all those people decide to pay to see the parade?
Of course, most of them won’t and maybe that is what the FMC is counting on. Having a smaller, paying crowd will bring in additional funding but at what cost?
With fewer people coming to watch the parade, and those who come, paying to enter the CNE, the festival will become more like a regular CNE day at the end of August and not carnival as we know it.
There most likely will be additional costs with higher fees being demanded by the CNE for rent, security, clean-up and so on.
What about our vendors? The CNE has its vendors contracted year round. Will that leave any room for the vendors from our community who usually ply their trade along the Lakeshore?
And, with smaller crowds, will the sponsors, such as the bank, still see their arrangement with the FMC as a viable one? If they pull out, will other sponsors step up or will they see a scaled down festival as not being in their best interest?
But it all comes right back to the different levels of government which, if this was a White-run and organized event, would have been pouring in tons of money for the returns this festival brings in to the city, province and country. Remember when even before the Luminato Festival was launched, the McGuinty Liberal government of Ontario set aside a reportedly $10 million for it. That festival does not generate anywhere near what the Toronto carnival does for this city. Go figure.
The FMC needs to reassess its purpose. If it must continue running this festival, it needs to reach out to the other community stakeholders and come up with a united front to deal with the government funders to ensure that the festival not only survives, but thrives – for everyone concerned.