Quo vadis, Toronto Carnival?


mas kingAs we approach next year’s milestone when “our” carnival here in Toronto will see its fiftieth year of existence, we need to ask ourselves whether we are proud of what our carnival has become and of where it is headed.

In fact, it is unfortunate, some say it is a disaster that, in the forty-ninth year of our carnival, such questions should cause us a degree of embarrassment.

So let us skip the niceties and rephrase those questions in more specific terms.

Do we know who has legal, effective and beneficial ownership of the Toronto carnival that is currently being operated by the Festival Management Committee (FMC)?

Do we know who has control over its policies and content? Are we satisfied with the publicly visible aspects of its policies and content?

Are we satisfied with the level of public accountability and transparency of its operations?

What is the role of the three levels of government in this FMC carnival? Is it true that their total cash contribution to this carnival is $1 million? Is this all grant money?

What is the role of the private sector sponsors in this carnival? What are the details of their financial sponsorship and what do they get in return? What are their rights and responsibilities as sponsors?

Is it true that the overall number of masqueraders has declined significantly in recent years?

Is it true that the number of parade spectators has significantly declined in recent years?

Has there been a consequent decline in the advertising value of the carnival parade, given any combined effects of fewer masqueraders and fewer spectators?

Is there an accumulation of debt going into this year’s carnival? What is the extent of the revenue and expenditure projected for this year’s budget?

Does the Caribbean diaspora community in the GTA have any rights or responsibilities to be exercised in the FMC’s carnival?

In summary, to whom or to which entity is the FMC accountable and has the FMC been accountable to that person, group of persons or entity?

In asking all these questions, we are not simply engaging in a legal exercise.

Rather, our objective is to aim at an evaluation of the realities of our current situation. Where are we now and what are we to do about it?

We get the general impression that the carnival as we see it today is in decline, that our Caribbean diaspora is losing interest and that the number of Canada-based persons who are turning out to see the parade is decreasing.

One possible reason for the decreasing interest in the parade of the bands of masqueraders and floats may be the FMC’s constant efforts to coral the parade into restrictive venues and to keep unruly spectators from invading the space reserved for the orderly flow of the mas’.

Has the enthusiasm of the Caribbean and non-Caribbean spectators been dampened by well-intentioned efforts to secure the safety and enjoyment of the masqueraders?

Has the parade itself been compromised by the well-intentioned efforts of the FMC to maximize the efficiency of collecting revenue from paying spectators and to ensure that those paying spectators are comfortably enjoying the parade?

Having considered all the issues, leaving room for the pros, the cons and the many grey areas of opinion, it is safe to draw two initial conclusions.

For one thing, few persons, if any, are satisfied with the current arrangements for the Toronto carnival. For another, many persons are not happy with the idea of bringing back administrators from the teams that managed the carnival in the past.

It may be that, more than the mere need for new blood, there is a critical need to bring into the process able and qualified specialists and managers who can prepare a blueprint for an efficient business plan and a road map for the process of implementing the blueprint.

They will be the ones to carry out an independent mission. Their vision will distill the lessons from our decades of carnival experiences, and will be guided and validated by the principles of wide consultation, meaningful compromise and sound business practices.

Our full menu of carnival arts (costumes, calypso/soca music and steelpan music) can and must be a blend of excellent artistic performances and a financially successful, self-supporting business. Here is a relevant quotation from one of this newspaper’s previous Editorials:

“Imagine a billion-dollar business plan based on the massive vision of what our Carnival can and should be; plus a visionary champion from the business community; plus a visionary politician who has the support of the business community; plus representatives of the three main Caribbean carnival arts; plus an executive body that includes these five members and four community representatives of the wider Caribbean diaspora in Ontario.”