By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
There were a lot fewer volunteers at this year’s carnival than in previous years. At least, that is what I have been told.
That might be among the reasons there were so many problems at the parade.
The first band took to the stage an hour late. Why did this happen? That would not have been allowed in a well-organized parade with the proper staffing to make sure the bands moved onto the stage when they were supposed to. And, also, to move off of it.
One band, I was told, took more than two hours on the stage. Really? Doesn’t this bandleader have any respect for his fellow bandleaders? And, who is really running things at this festival?
With less than seven hours allowed for 15 bands (after the police decided to shorten the cut-off time by an hour from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m.), this was just unconscionable. No wonder three bands were shut out of the parade and not allowed to go on the road. Who will compensate them and their members who waited a whole year and paid good money to play their mas’?
And, who the hell agreed for the police to cut short the parade in the first place? This is not the Santa Claus Parade. And even the Pride parade is allowed to go all night. Or just about.
First, the City of Toronto took the festival away from our community and set up its own committee to run it; then these people promptly yielded to corporate interests and changed the name of the festival to the point where it is almost unrecognizable; now we have the police deciding when the parade should end. I don’t see any such limits on any other parade. Do we really need this?
Councillor Joe Mihevc’s creation, the Festival Management Committee (FMC), is clearly not up to the task of running this festival. When Mihevc decided to stop funding the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), the founders and owners of Caribana, he set up this committee, the FMC, to run it. At the time, most of us believed that this committee of highly regarded people from our community would act as custodians of this community trust until the members of the CCC got their act together, and to help them in this effort, not to take it away permanently from them. But, it seems as though when they saw the potential of the festival, they decided that they were not going to give it back to the CCC. And, of course, this was a win-win for Mihevc because it meant that he would no longer have to listen to the constant demands from the CCC for more money or from the bandleaders who were very unhappy with the CCC. Among other things, they felt it was the CCC which was holding up their funds. Now, I guess they know better. I hear they are not so happy with the FMC either.
This is not the first time that people who were brought in to help the CCC sought to take the festival away, once they saw its potential. It seems as though it was only the CCC members who never saw that potential and only always saw it as a big party.
But, more and more, people in our community are beginning to be concerned. They didn’t help to build this festival for almost three decades for a group of people who are not responsible to the community to take it away just so.
Someone told me that one of the principals of the FMC once said that he doesn’t have to report to the community; only to the city and to the festival’s sponsors. Seriously?
No wonder we have never seen a report on this festival since the FMC took over. So, we don’t know how much money they are receiving; how much they are spending; if they are making or losing money. I guess it is no longer our business because we don’t own it so we don’t have the right to know.
Which brings me to why the number of volunteers might have been declining.
As messy as it was, when the previous organization ran the festival, we still saw it as ours and – like them or not – we felt it was in our interest to help make the festival work for the sake of our culture and our future generations. So, regardless of all the tra-la-la behind the scenes, people still came out and volunteered their time faithfully year after year to make it the success that it has become. However, if it is now a privately-owned company, what’s in it for them? Especially when it is being run by people who have little or no experience with our carnival culture.
I suggested some time ago that if the festival is now owned by a private group (and I am still to hear from anyone that it is not), all those participating in it; all those who help to make it happen, should be paid for their services. No more free labour. Slavery done!
The people who help out on the day of the parade, whether as marshals on the parade route; as officials directing the various aspects of the event; as hostesses in the VIP tents; as masquerade models, musicians and entertainers at the launch of the festival; or as judges, MCs etc., should all be financially compensated. All of them!!!
That also goes for those performing similar duties at the King and Queen show, the Gala and any other event these folks are having. Many of our people are struggling to make ends meet as it is and they could use the little extra cash. Pay them all! Or they don’t work.
While I am on that subject, the FMC should be ashamed of the small pittance they pay their event coordinators. For example, coordinating the King and Queen show is not an easy task. $1,500? Really? That show alone brings in over $100,000 in the one night and I understand they don’t even have to pay for the stadium, which the city provides for free.
And the masqueraders who perform before the judges, shouldn’t they all be paid at least an appearance fee? The prize money is one thing, but only a few contestants receive prize money. What about all the others who have spent thousands of dollars to build those magnificent costumes which attract the packed audience and their more than $100,000? I understand the bandleaders each get a measly $500 to cover the cost of transportation.
My major concern, however, is for the performers at the festival. Yes, you still call them masqueraders. But since they started to ‘perform’ for a privately-owned organization, they should be considered performers and be paid as such. Which means the bandleaders should be paid properly for their presentations and the band members should at least not have to pay for their costumes. After all, it is their ‘performances’ that attract the one million visitors who inject some $450-million into the economy of this city and province. Why should they not be compensated for their contribution to making this happen?
Aren’t people such as Machel and the other ‘performers’ or entertainers handsomely paid? What makes the bands any different?
If the bandleaders are paid properly, they will be able to pay their helpers so that people would not end up, on carnival day, without the costumes they paid for, as happened with at least one band. Yes, I have received those complaints.
It is beyond belief that the bandleaders, who are responsible for attracting all that money to this city, have been treated so shabbily for so long. But the treatment of those three bands which were shut out of the parade by the FMC and the police should be a wake-up call.
If you can’t handle the parade, turn it over to people who know carnival and who know how to run this kind of festival. Otherwise, the people are going to stop coming and, with them, that $450-million.