Toronto Caribbean Carnival CEO exits


Carnival with Aneesa Oumarally

Veteran carnival administrators Denise Herrera-Jackson and Chris Alexander are now back in charge of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival.  Aneesa Oumarally, who was hired in August 2019, as CEO, has now   left her duties as CEO after an amicable discussions with the Festival Management Committee (FMC).

The Festival Management Committee (FMC) Chair, Joe Halstead, confirmed her comments saying: “She was not terminated, I think there may be some misconceptions but this is a very simple matter.”  He elaborated saying that the FMC did not have a Festival this year and the prospects for next year was vague.  The Committee and Oumarally agreed that they should cut costs.

Halstead explained that the organization did not having the Carnival for 2020 and Covid-19 might impact 2021 so there is no need for the “Carnival management staff”. In fact, FMC did not have the revenue to support the salaries of all its personnel for the projected two years.  Since salaries were a significant component of the cost the CEO, and Naila Seunath, the information officer positions were shed.

Halstead informed the Camera that other staff salaries has been reduced by 40-50 percent, and if the financial conditions change and revenues are realized, the persons who were released could be reinstated. He acknowledged Aneesa and Naila, saying that he was grateful for their services.

Oumarally recently posted, on LinkedIn, that she did not apply for the job of CEO of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival. 

The post stated that at the time of the offer, she was the Chair of Governance of the (Toronto Caribbean Carnival) Board.  She left the board and became an employee (CEO) of the festival when Richard de Lima, the Festival’s CEO of just six months, had his two-year contract abruptly terminated and the Parade operations manager, Gerard Weekes suddenly resigned before the 2019 parade and returned to Trinidad.

Oumarally and members of the FMC’s governance committee took over responsibilities of the CEO and were able to stage the 2019 festival. The festival went ahead as scheduled without a title sponsor or much corporate support, there was friction along the parade route, creating long gaps in the parade. As a result, there was a noticeable decline in attendance.  

Following the 2019 Carnival parade Oumarally put aside her law practice, accepted a one-year contract, and became CEO of the organization. As fall approached the winds of change continued, long-time office manager Margo Harris retired, and sponsorship marketing wunderkid Kal Juman resigned and signed up with another Festival.

These significant resignations did not deter Oumarally.  She stated – “From the time I was named the CEO, I hit the ground running, learning everything I could about the business, it’s management, how it was managed, the culture, the perceived culture, the stakeholders, the stakeholders’ perception of the (festival).”

She insists that planning for the upcoming festival was strong; and that they had found ways to grow potential revenues, but the Covid-19 shutdown decimated everything. She lamented, “We would not have actually known if we were successful until the festival.”

The Carnival Event loss has devastated the city, not just the loss of a world class event; but also in terms of the financial impact on the Toronto Tourism Industry as well Mas’ camps were closed, Band launches, Calypso and Pan Concerts were all cancelled. Overnight, the Toronto Carnival lost a reported 75% of its volunteer team. 

Even though the carnival was shuttered its cash box was not. Money has flowed into the FMC coffers.  Sources at Toronto City Hall, Queen’s Park and Ottawa estimate that over $850,000 in grant money has been given to the beleaguered festival to help soften the Covid-19 blow.

The Caribbean Camera was told that the City of Toronto gave the Festival $625,000, the Federal Government (through Heritage Canada) gave $128,000 and the Province handed over $100,000.  A total of $853,000.

In terms of expenses, the Virtual Road August 1st all-day on-line carnival cost for staging the event is estimated at $26,000, band leaders are estimated to have received $55,000. A total of $78,000 no estimate was given for staff salaries.

Presently, because of Covid-19, the FMC does not know what kind of festival they will be allowed to stage next year, and how much funding it could attract to stage the 2021 Carnival.  Halstead explained that because of the large crowds, “500,000 to 700,000 people, the organization must obtain Public Health Clearance in order to be granted a city permit. 

Even the fate of the King and Queen Competition is on the line. According to the FMC, they won’t get permission to hold the outdoor event until there are vaccines or other health protection measures available to all attendees.

So what’s next?  How does the Toronto Caribbean Carnival stay alive? According to Mr. Halstead, the FMC’s new Board, including Oumarally, will be reconvened in September to determine the way forward.

Halstead said, “We have to rethink what we do and how we do it.  We might have a smaller version or it may be virtual or some other thing, we may need different skill sets. We are going to be looking at our options between now and November and then we must present a plan to the city saying what we intend to do.”