PNE among fairs and ex­hi­bi­tions seek­ing mil­lions in fed­eral aid

The Province - - NEWS - KEITH FRASER kfraser@postmedia.com twit­ter.com/kei­thrfraser

An or­ga­ni­za­tion that rep­re­sents fairs and ex­hi­bi­tions across Canada, in­clud­ing the PNE, is lob­by­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for nearly $74 mil­lion in aid that its says is des­per­ately needed for its mem­bers to sur­vive the eco­nomic ef­fects of the COVID19 pan­demic.

The Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Fairs and Ex­hi­bi­tions (CAFE), which rep­re­sents fairs, ex­hi­bi­tions and agri­cul­tural so­ci­eties across the coun­try, many of which have been can­celled this year, says that they have been in­el­i­gi­ble for most of the eco­nomic-aid mea­sures that have been an­nounced to date by Ot­tawa.

“The gov­ern­ment, for their part, un­der­stand­ably wants to use the pro­grams that cur­rently ex­ist as much as pos­si­ble,” CAFE ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor

Christina Franc said Tues­day.

“But there’s still this gap for non-profit, small, com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions like ours.”

Franc said her or­ga­ni­za­tion, a reg­is­tered char­ity, has been at­tempt­ing since March to get gov­ern­ment help and has reached out to var­i­ous de­part­ments, in­clud­ing the fed­eral agricultur­e min­istry, the Cana­dian her­itage de­part­ment, and the fi­nance de­part­ment.

At the be­gin­ning of June, CAFE says it sought $49 mil­lion to sup­port the 733 fairs and ex­hi­bi­tions across the coun­try and is now re­quest­ing an ad­di­tional $25 mil­lion for the 10 largest ex­hi­bi­tions, in­clud­ing the Cana­dian Na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion and the PNE.

Shel­ley Frost, pres­i­dent and CEO of the PNE, said the fair is in even deeper trou­ble than most of the oth­ers since the city-owned ex­hi­bi­tion is not even el­i­gi­ble for a fed­eral wage sub­sidy be­ing of­fered to hard-hit or­ga­ni­za­tions, a sit­u­a­tion that she said is “dev­as­tat­ing.”

“We’re the only fair in Canada that we are aware of that is not re­ceiv­ing a sin­gle dol­lar of any fed­eral sub­sidy sup­port.”

Al­though there has been talk of fed­eral as­sis­tance to tourism or­ga­ni­za­tions, the PNE likely wouldn’t qual­ify for any such pro­gram ei­ther, said Frost.

“In my opin­ion, the PNE is re­ally fall­ing through the cracks be­cause we haven’t been able to se­cure even a sin­gle dol­lar of any mu­nic­i­pal, pro­vin­cial, or fed­eral sup­port yet.”

De­spite “sig­nif­i­cant” lay­offs and cost-cut­ting, the PNE is still fac­ing a loss of about $11 mil­lion this year, which adds to the chal­lenge of keep­ing the fair alive, said Frost.

“Any­thing at all that helps take us out of the $11 mil­lion in debt that we’re go­ing to be in at the end of this year is im­mensely help­ful.

“We can man­age com­ing out of a few mil­lion dol­lars in debt. It’s a re­ally long road if we have to come back from $11 mil­lion in debt.”

A re­cent sur­vey showed that provincewi­de sup­port for the PNE re­mains “ab­so­lutely over­whelm­ing,” said Frost.

“As a 110-year-old or­ga­ni­za­tion, we are re­ally part of the col­lec­tive me­mory of the prov­ince and I feel in­cred­i­bly strongly that we play a re­ally im­por­tant role in build­ing so­cial con­nec­tions, bring­ing peo­ple out to en­joy times, and build mem­o­ries with their fam­i­lies.”

At­ten­dance at Play­land at the PNE, the amuse­ment park that has re­opened but is of­fer­ing lim­ited rides and attraction­s and is adopt­ing COVID19 health and safety pro­to­cols, is off by 85 to 90 per cent.

The fed­eral fi­nance min­istry re­ferred in­quiries to Cana­dian Her­itage, which said in an email that it could not meet Postmedia’s dead­line.

“We will con­tinue work­ing on your ques­tions and re­spond as soon as pos­si­ble,” said the email.

RICHARD LAM/FILES

In nor­mal years, Festival Square at the PNE would have been filled with crews and equip­ment.

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