PNE among fairs and exhibitions seeking millions in federal aid
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.
In normal years, Festival Square at the PNE would have been filled with crews and equipment.