By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
Toronto City Councillor, Joe Mihevc, the city’s liaison to the Caribbean carnival, has been quoted as urging members of the community to call their federal Members of Parliament and urge them to prevail on the government to come to the table with funds for the carnival.
That is because the feds have cut their funding to the festival from the paltry $100,000 they used to give to zero now. This from a government which makes some $20-million in taxes from a carnival that brings in some $400-million into the local economy annually. Both the city and the province (which makes about $32-million in taxes) have also cut their funding.
Funny thing, though. Mihevc and the Festival Management Committee (FMC) he set up seven years ago to run the carnival, when he took it away from the community, have not been forthcoming to the community during all those years.
In fact, a few years back, one of his appointees to the committee had been quoted as saying that he didn’t have to report to the community, only to the funders and his sponsors. Our response now should be to tell them to get their funders and sponsors to call the feds. Not so?
They have run a very close-to-the-vest operation since they took the festival away. As far as I know, there have been no efforts to communicate to the community; no town hall meetings; no reports showing how much money they make and how it is spent. The annual monies they receive from their major sponsor, Scotiabank, have never been revealed to the community. We would like to think it is a lot of money for all the millions of dollars in free publicity the bank gets from this festival but we are sure it is not.
Instead of Mihevc asking members of our community to call the federal government, he should be calling Scotiabank.
By the way, hasn’t the CEO of the festival, Denise Herrera Jackson, been telling anyone who would listen that the aim of the FMC is to eventually wean themselves off of government funding? So what gives? Didn’t she get the memo? Her liaison at city hall wants more government money.
It is pathetic that this festival, which the government’s own figures show brings in hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy each year, has to go begging year after year for sufficient funds to run it.
Wasn’t that the same problem the founders and owners of the festival, the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) – now the Caribana Arts Group – which ran it under the name, Caribana, used to have, and wasn’t this new outfit going to be doing things differently?
I believe the reason the FMC members, their sponsors and their funders treated the community so shabbily is that they felt it would have been easy to completely commercialize the carnival as a private enterprise. They believed that, since Black people loved to jump up and play mas, no one would notice or care as long as they got to jump up and play mas. So, as long as they paid the carnival bands (especially the bigger ones) their money and the bands in turn produced the parade, they would have been able to fly under the radar.
And they did, for a few years.
Then, they got greedy. Or desperate. This year, for example, the decision was made to hold the parade in the CNE and to have everyone pay to see it. So, if you wanted to really enjoy the carnival you would have to pay. Of course, they allowed the bands to go onto the Lakeshore as before but that was a sham. Once the bands parade through the CNE grounds and go before the judges, they are basically on their own.
So, how did that work out for the FMC?
I know that the cost of renting the CNE is huge. A number of years ago when the CCC wanted to do something similar I wrote a number of articles criticizing the plan. The councillor who was the liaison to the festival at that time, Joe Pantalone (another Joe), asked to meet with me. During that meeting, he admitted that the cost to rent the CNE (back then) was something like $295,000 for the day. Then the CCC would have to pay all the other costs such as security and clean-up. The CNE would have collected all the money from the paying patrons and pay all the bills. What was left over would have been given to the CCC.
I asked Joe Pants what would happen if there was nothing left over or if there was a deficit. The bills have to be paid, he replied. Which means that the CCC would have gone deeper into debt. They cancelled those plans.
So, how much did the FMC have to pay this time? And did they make enough money to pay all those bills or are they now deeper in debt?
But this is part of the FMC’s effort to “wean” themselves off of government funding. They would rather soak members of the community, who are already paying $400-million to see the parade, by charging them more money to see it in the CNE.
As far as I know, that CNE business has hit a raw nerve with the public. People are really angry. The carnival is a street parade, not a show in a stadium or a park. By doing this, they are changing the nature of our carnival and they are going to kill it.
And, as for the government funders, why would they fund a festival that is sponsored by a wealthy bank?
Expect those government funds to continue to dry up. Regardless of Mihevc’s pleas.