If you ‘re a newcomer to Toronto and were in close vicinity of Nathan Phillips Square around noon on Tuesday, you may have thought that you were in the Caribbean.
The music onstage in the Square was unmistakably Caribbean and there were masqueraders showing off the artistry of carnival.
But yes, you were still in Toronto. The twin towers of City Hall were there proudly standing behind the Square. And was that not Mayor John Tory at the microphone? What was he up to this time?
Well, it was the annual summer ritual : the launch of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival – or the Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival, to give it its longer official title.
And Mayor Tory was onstage to bring greetings and announce that the City would provide $625,00 for this year’s festival.
Good news for the cash-starved and indebted Festival Management Committee (FMC), organizers of the Toronto Carnival.
The money from the City may seem like a major boost of funding or in the words of one of the mas’men at the event , “a good chunk of change.”
Yet maybe it’s not enough “change” for FMC to pay off its debts and get the festival on a solid financial footing.
Reporting on Tuesday’s launch of the carnival, Lincoln DePradine quoted one unnamed source as saying that this year’s federal government’s contribution to the festival is “eighty-
something thousand while the Ontario government is providing just under $270,000.”
And Haynesley Benn, the Barbados Consul General in Toronto said that while the $625,000 from the City of Toronto sounds like a lot of money, it would be even better if for 2019, Mayor Tory could announce a city donation of one million dollars.
But, Mr. Consul General, why just one million?
Would that be enough for the FMC to get the festival on the road to financial viability ?
We are not privy to the secrets of the “owners” of the FMC and therefore we do not know if one million dollars would be enough.
However, we are concerned about the perennial money problems of the festival.
We were told that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was invited to the launch on Tuesday but could not make it. However, he did meet some of the mas’ players and carnival officials on Friday while he was in Toronto .
Although the Caribbean Camera provides a great deal of coverage to Caribbean carnivals, more than any other paper in Canada, we were not invited to this event but we were told that the prime minister was shown the fine art of wire bending by one of the mas’ men.
Such a skill may not be helpful to the prime minister in the upcoming elections but if wire bending could help release some more federal government funding for the festival, it’s worth a try
For half a century the Toronto Caribbean carnival has been “on the road” and for most of this time it has had major money problems. The Caribana organization which ran the festival before it was taken over by the FMC, had some scandalous problems which led to a great deal of finger pointing, much of it related to money management. In fact the money problems of Caribana may have been in large measure responsible for the takeover of the festival by the FMC.
We are repeatedly reminded that the festival annually brings to the City, the province of Ontario and the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. For that we congratulate everyone who are playing a role in getting the show on the road.
However, after 50 years, the festival should have been able to generate sufficient funds on its own to make it financially viable and the organizers should not have to wait on government handouts. The current “owners” of what used to be a community organization (Caribana) should have availed themselves of the marketing skills to generate the money they would need to make a success of what could be the jewel in the crown of the Toronto Caribbean cultural scene.
Why after 50 years, the festival still does not have its own cultural centre? What about the scholarships for young people in the community – scholarships which were promised in the early days of the festival? Is the failure to achieve these goal the result of a lack of ambition of the “owners” of the festival?
Within our own Caribbean community in Toronto, there is the prevailing cynical view that mas’ ‘players generally have little or no interest in whichever organization runs the festival, once they can jump up and have a good time.
Call it FMC, CAG, ABC or XYZ, who runs the show is of little concern to them.
Mas’ players are interested in playing mas’ – end of story.
So we once more ask the question: Will one million dollars be enough?
We think not.