By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
I have always downplayed calls from people in our community who felt the carnival parade should be cancelled for one year. The reason behind such calls was to get the attention of the various government funders who will then have to face the loss of the huge economic impact – now valued at some $450-million each summer – the carnival has been for the city, the province and the country as a whole.
My reason was simple. I didn’t think the bandleaders would go along. The carnival in this city is life to most of them. They live for it. Then there are the masqueraders – the tens of thousands of individuals – who wait and plan all year for the chance to play ’mas come the summer.
I always felt it would be a hard sell, almost impossible, and I don’t like to spend valuable time on the impossible.
Now it doesn’t seem as far-fetched at it once did.
When the city, through its liaison to Caribana, Councillor Joe Mihevc, took the festival away from its founders and owners, the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), and gave it to the Festival Management Committee (FMC), the idea seemed at the time to be that the city would have more control and not have to deal with pesky demands regarding, for example, more money. The CCC was always struggling for money and felt that the different levels of government should have been more helpful.
Mihevc was glad to be rid of the CCC and the folks he appointed to the FMC, confident that the White father at City Hall had their backs, chose not to engage the community because, well, they didn’t feel they had to.
Everything seemed to have been going well for a while. Until the people who held the purse strings, having their own budget woes, decided that they would begin to reduce the festival’s funding.
This year, the federal government cut its funding from $100,000 down to $30,000; the city trimmed 10 per cent off of its almost $500,000 annual contribution and the province, which used to match the city’s funds, now require the FMC to re-apply every year for a grant which would not top $400,000. I understand that this year they received only $350,000. And this from a government which gives millions to Luminato which does not bring in any significant money to the economy but has the ‘right’ people behind it.
This is also from a government that has just wasted more than $230-million to cancel two power plants in order to save a few electoral seats that it would have won anyway.
The province takes in some $30-million in PST and the Feds, some $20-million in GST from the carnival festival each year.
This carnival is still being seen as an ethnic festival and is being lumped in with all the other smaller and less successful ethnic events that need grants instead of investment. And that won’t change until something is done about it.
Well, first, accept the fact that the FMC has been a failure. One of the reasons the bandleaders supported the move away from the CCC is that they believed it was the CCC which was holding up their funding. Now, not only are their funds still being held up, they are getting less money. And they will continue to get even less because the principals at the FMC cannot – or will not – stand up to the funders to defend this festival. Then again, how can they? Their hearts are not in this. This is not their passion. How can they defend something that they don’t feel deep down inside?
We have also heard from some of the artistes who performed at this year’s festival who are still awaiting payment. The folks at the FMC say they have no money. Where have we heard that before?
We can wait to see what will happen and hope for the best. Meanwhile, the bandleaders will continue to get less money and so will the calypsonians and the steel bands. Actually, the calypsonians and the steel bands might be the first casualties since they are not viewed by those who don’t know carnival as being important to the festival.
Eventually, the carnival will lose its attractiveness and fade. That has already begun.
Or the bandleaders could get serious about their culture and join together to demand that they be given sustainable long term funding so that they can plan properly for the future. And tell the powers that be that if they don’t come to the table with a solid plan to support the festival they will not be producing their bands next year.
That is easier said than done, of course. Bandleaders are very competitive and don’t work together as well as they could or should. And, even if they decided to hold a solid line, who is to say that section leaders or other would-be bandleaders won’t jump into the breach.
Then the people who play ’mas have to be on side. That will also be difficult. Most of them just want to play their ’mas and can’t be bothered with the ‘politics’.
But, unless it becomes clear to everyone that this carnival is in trouble and could be lost forever, there won’t be any action to save it.
And, believe me, if it deteriorates to the point where the visitors no longer want to come here to see it and drop those huge dollars into our economy, the funds will be cut completely.