By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
In another two weeks, some one-million people will converge on Lakeshore Boulevard for the annual Caribbean-styled carnival which has become a staple of this city’s summer festivities.
They will come from far and near and inject, according to the city’s own figures, more than $400-million into the local economy.
This carnival has entertained and amazed Torontonians and their visitors – most of whom come from the United States, but also from the Caribbean, Europe and elsewhere – for 44 years so far. This year will be its 45th.
The carnival has always been spectacular. There has never been a year when it was not, even when it rained and costumes were drenched. People just got into the spirit and had fun.
Six years ago, the City of Toronto’s liaison to the festival, Councillor Joe Mihevc, took control away from the owners and originators of the carnival, the then Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC), and set up his own committee, the Festival Management Committee (FMC), to manage it. (He gave as one of the reasons the CCC’s failure to produce the required financial statements for the money the city gave to the festival in previous years.)
But the carnival continues to be spectacular and that is because of the people who actually produced the mas’ bands – the designers, the people who built and sewed the costumes, the bandleaders who pulled it all together for their respective bands, the thousands of people who purchased costumes and the free labour of all the hundreds of volunteers without whom staging the festival would not have been possible.
Mihevc’s committee seems to be doing a good job. But we have no way of knowing for sure since its members only report to Mihevc and the festival’s sponsors, and not to our community.
That in itself has caused some concern among those who still want to know that the festival is owned by the community and is a true reflection of the culture. When the CCC ran it, we knew everything, warts and all.
This raises another issue. Is the FMC receiving enough money to meet its obligations? Is it able to properly compensate, for example, the people responsible for producing the carnival – together with the calypsonians and steelbands. The lack of proper funding was one of the major drawbacks for the CCC and played no small role in its downfall.
I understand that the City of Toronto has reduced the money it invests in the festival by 10 per cent this year. And the provincial government, which used to match the city’s funds, has changed the way it now provides money to the festival, resulting also in a significant reduction. While the city’s investment is now $494,000, the province will give the FMC just $350,000.
I have also been told that the FMC now has to apply each year to the province for those funds and the money must be used for new initiatives. That may be why the route in the CNE was changed last year and that is (or probably is) the real reason the kiddies carnival is being moved to Downsview Park this year.
If that is true, it means that, apart from the enormous task of staging this festival, the FMC will now also have to come up with something new and spectacular each year in order to get the funds. Good luck with that. And this from our provincial Liberal government which gets 8 per cent of that $400-million through the provincial component of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)? Wouldn’t that amount to something in the region of $32-million?
The federal government is worse. This year it is providing a measly $40,000. For its part of the HST, it could receive some $20-million. Are these people for real?
We don’t know what the sponsors, such as Scotiabank, are providing. But, whatever it is, it is definitely not enough for the amount of exposure they get each year from this festival.
So, where does all this leave the producers of the festival – the mas’ bands, the calypsonians, the steelbands – and even the FMC which must pay all these entities? If the money the FMC is getting is being reduced, surely that will impact the money available to the cultural components.
How do these government bodies expect this festival to survive if they are not prepared to properly invest in it?
We know that the provincial government gives a lot of money to events and festivals considered worthwhile. Luminato, which gets millions from the province and gives back little more than a good feeling, is a case in point.
No wonder that in order to get a little more money the FMC has to go cap in hand to sponsors who then call the shots. It is a downright shame. If we had a little courage we would stand up more for this festival.
The city needs this carnival more than we do. The businesses in the city which benefit financially from it – and give back little or nothing – need it (the hotels, for example, are packed during the festival at, in some cases, three times the going rate). Very few of us make any money from the carnival. The most we get is a good time. Is it worth it?
Mihevc says the city does not make any money from the festival. Not directly, that is true. But, the city makes a lot of money from all the businesses which benefit handsomely from the festival. Why do you think he took the festival away from the CCC instead of just refusing to fund them and allowing them to fend for themselves or close it down?
Because he likes to see Caribbean people jumping up on the Lakeshore?