Groups must come together

By Arnold Auguste Wednesday October 24 2012 in Opinion
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By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor

Word is that the carnival bandleaders have all received their final payments from the Festival Management Committee (FMC), the body set up by the City of Toronto – specifically by Councillor Joe Mihevc, the city’s liaison to the festival – to run the carnival after it was taken away from its founders and owners, the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC).


That is a good thing. It shows that the FMC took seriously its responsibility to ensure these cultural contributors to the festival have received all the money owed to them.


I don’t know if all the other entertainers have been paid but, based on the efforts to pay the bandleaders, I am confident the others will also be paid. That is, if the FMC gets the money.


And, that is the problem.


First, though, I can’t help but remind the bandleaders of how badly some of them used to behave when the CCC was late with its payments. Now it should be apparent that it might not have been the CCC’s fault but that of the funders who didn’t show respect then – and apparently don’t now – for the people who are instrumental in producing this festival that brings in some $450 million each year to the province’s economy.


It should never have taken this long for these people to get all their money – as meager as it is to begin with.


I should also point out that some members of various CCC boards and/or staff over the years were known to have been less than civil to the bandleaders so there are enough hurt feelings to go around.


In spite of the boon this festival has been to this city, it has always been starved of funds. Yes, the city used to provide it with just under a half-million dollars and the province used to match those funds. The feds also used to provide $100,000. That was far short of the kind of money a festival such as this needed then and does now in order for it to be presented at its best.


However, with the assistance of hundreds of volunteers – free labour – the organizers made do. Now, those already inadequate funds have been reduced. The city has cut some 10 per cent from its funding; the province has changed the way it funds the festival and now requires the FMC to re-apply each year for a grant (this year they only received $350,000 from the province) and the feds have reduced their contribution to just $30,000. No wonder people can’t be paid.


Yet, the provincial government receives some $36 million in provincial sales taxes and the feds some $22 million in their share of the HST.


I have said it before but it is worth repeating: Before the Luminato festival was even launched it received millions of dollars in start-up money and some $15 million in sustainable funding. Not because it brings in anywhere near what the carnival does (we can’t even call the damn thing Caribana anymore either – for shame) but because the ‘right’ people were involved and they had the right connections to the provincial Liberal government.


These people only talk a lot of crap to us but they don’t really respect us. We must remember this when the next election comes around. There are alternatives, you know!


It is painful to see provincial and federal ministers come to the launch of the carnival to tell us what a wonderful thing this festival is and how much it benefits the society. We know that already! What we want them to do is to come with serious money!!!


So, the FMC is now being starved of funds. Mihevc just wanted to get rid of the CCC because he got tired of hearing them complain about money. That’s the real reason he took the festival away from them. He felt his committee would not be as demanding.


One of the things people keep asking me is: What can we do about this? Another is: How can we get this carnival back, how can we reclaim ownership?


There are a few issues that must first be addressed. One is that there is lingering bad blood between some of the bandleaders and the old CCC. And although the name and constitution have been changed – it is now the Caribana Arts Group (CAG) – it is still viewed as the same by a few. I have been told that there is no way some of them will work with the CCC/CAG. A compromise has to be reached.


The FMC, on the other hand, never reached out to the community since it felt it had the blessing of the city. Now that it is being screwed by the city, it may want change that position.


As it is, none of these entities can function indefinitely on its own. People have to start speaking with each other and find common ground.


The alternative is not that the city will continue to run the festival; the alternative is that the festival will die. It is not sustainable in its present state.


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