Right Market, Wrong Vendor

Right Market, Wrong Vendor

By N Oji Mzilikazi

(Originally published in Montreal Community Contact Volume 21, Number 15)

July 21, 2011

I can assure you dear reader that whatever fruits and provisions I have for sale is A-grade; is inspected and vetted so its consumption can be enjoyable.

I don’t know who among you have diabetes or high blood pressure so their fat, salt and sugar content are extremely low, thereby allowing you to season them to your taste and delight. But like anything else, there are those who will experience indigestion. They cannot handle “hard food.”

In this edition, Dr. Clarence Bayne took umbrage with some of my statements on community and leadership, and given their age, it is plain to see my words was stuck in his craw for a very long time.

Rather than display the intellectual acumen that goes with his learned status and logically dissect any one of my statements to prove my ineptitude and wrong-headedness, he launched a personal attack, exhibited the default position of a “standard seven” mentality.

I don’t know when Dr. Bayne achieved certification as a psychologist, but congratulations are in order. He diagnosed me as being “a turned off youth who did not benefit from a social and emotional development.”

What does the nature of one’s upbringing has to do with my condemnation of bankrupt leadership and calls for the transformational leadership, accountability of stewardship and transparency?

In impugning such an upbringing, as if it invalidates intelligence and voice, Dr. Bayne reveals his predilection to elitism and disdain to the environment so many of our people have, and unfortunately continue to  be socialised into, and to those folks themselves- people who are the salt of the earth and whom are always targeted for help.

While Dr. Bayne tags my space as of damned souls, he had no problems mining the same in his Aug. 26, 2010, column, “A Deeper Look At The Perils Of Our Community.” He says, “We drink the poison of serpents and kiss the hoof of the Golden Calf,” closes with “We are in the trap,” yet has the nerve to accuse me of “an out of body poetic rant.”

I have no time for obfuscation, intellectual masturbation, being disingenuous or sweet talk. I have no personal axe to grind in this space. The hydra-headed issues confronting our community preclude me from engaging in such pettiness. Extended months, possibly years of Winter is coming and our community is ill prepared for that “banga season.”

In this the United Nations designated “International Year for People of African Descent,” attacks against the race continue unabated, and not just in terms of racial profiling or exclusion.

The Los Angeles Times (07/08/11) carried the story of Michele Bachmann signing a pact that says among other things, African American children were better off during slavery than they are under the Obama administration. Bachmann is a Republican candidate running for the party’s presidential nominee.

Psychology Today had no qualms publishing (05/15/11) evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa piece of scientific racism, “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?

The economic fortunes of Blacks continue to take a battering. Employment shortages make the race the last hired and first fired. Our businesses are hurting and we continue with the self-infliction of wounds.

I’m about engaged citizenship, community economical and political empowerment, racial elevation, pro-activeness, constructive critical thinking, analysis of the ways the community has been an enemy of itself, with the hope my musings and perchance elucidation would prompt new blood to step into the breach and provide the much needed bold and visionary leadership.

All the promoters of fetes at the recently concluded Carifiesta/Jamaica Day clash of festivities ended up with gaping holes in their pockets. Yet Dr. Bayne would rather I not assign blame to leadership and “those that have tried but fallen short of my standards.”

My standards are not arbitrary Dr. Bayne, but in line with the values espoused by civil society. Need I remind you of the parable of the ten virgins? Just as there is no room for the foolish, accolades are only meted out to those that achieve, not to those that tried.

How long have we been here? While each new wave of immigrants to Canada goes through a generation or two of discrimination, difficulties, issues of language, adjustment and social reorganization, they have all been able to extricate themselves and prosper. So, why are we still stuck in a time warp? I cannot award points for trying.

While we are here today not on our own strength, but on the backs of many who came before us, where are our griots, our authors, historians and filmmakers? Are there no cultural imperatives to document our stories so children not yet born can easily revisit our past?

In 2009, KOLA literary magazine celebrated their 20th-anniversary. The issue they produced I wouldn’t take for free, much more buy. It was poorly laid out, and in this day and age when desktop publishing makes it easy for one to put out a quality product. Up to now KOLA does not even have a website, so what does that say about its growth.

I’ve been a member of an All-Fours Club for the past six years. (I dropped out for two.) Its constitution was ignored (actually never made available). Rules magically appeared. Meetings were rare. One had to ask for a receipt. Financial statements were never made available, not even when there was an AGM.

We went out of town to play, hosted teams from out of town, and when we meet on Friday nights we have fun, and that, it appears, was all that matters. Why stay? To keep them honest and force a change in the culture.

That sort of self-sabotage and obliviousness to structures are played out in many of our organizations, hence my tone. My extrapolations are rooted in evidence and facts.

In February 2000, or thereabouts, Mayor Pierre Bourque and a delegation attended carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, ostensibly to get a feel so Carifiesta could be better appreciated, and quite possible properly funded. He then lost the election making it impossible for his administration to do anything for Carifiesta.

On account of the lack of vision, the Carifiesta leadership didn’t view the ex-mayor as an asset, someone on intimate terms with City Hall’s bureaucracy and who could advocate for them with the new management. They could’ve recruited him to be an advisor or a governor, as is possible under their Constitution.  There was absolutely no capitalization on his trip to Trinbago.

When we look at what Carifiesta has become, the blame must fall on its leadership and history of infighting. Still, Ruthven Licorish had no shame stating the City of Montreal sounded the death knell of Carifiesta.

It is under the present cadre of leadership watch including you Dr Bayne, that long established institutions like the Negro Community Center in Little Burgundy, the BCCQ and the Union United Church among others closed their doors. Yet, you sanctimoniously bristle over my comments.

Ownership imbues one with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Ownership of land and property empowers. We continue being witnesses to Israel and Palestinians locked in a deathly struggle over land.

While owners have the right to do what they want with their property, when ownership is tied to legacy and racial pride, selling such a property is looked upon as a betrayal of sorts. Case in point: Motown and B.E.T.

In this very paper Dr. Bayne, you threw out selling the Black Study Centre. “Rent rather than tie up scare resources in the maintaining of a physical building” you wrote. I won’t be mad at you. It has been a “white elephant” these umpteen years, so why not turn a failure into a profit.

Quo Vadis Carifiesta?

Quo Vadis Carifiesta?

By N Oji Mzilikazi


(Originally published in Montreal Community Contact Volume 21, Number 14)

July 7, 2011

On March 13, 2011, the City of Montreal handed the Carifiesta Carnival Parade mandate to the CCFA- Caribbean Cultural Festivities Association, rather than the MCDF- Montreal Carnival Development Foundation, ending the wrangling that resulted in its cancellation of the 2010 Parade.

Carnival was back on. The Community was happy as pappy. Die-hard revellers couldn’t wait to get on “wotless”– shake off Winter’s dreariness, as well as the drudgery, privations and frustrations that qualify the lives of many in our Community.

Carifiesta, for all its marginalization by the City of Montreal, reconnection to West Indian cultural patrimony, expressions of ingenuity and creativity, freedom from a certain amount of constraints like body image as an example, was catharsis; therapy.

In addition, Carifiesta is a revenue generating machine for the City. Something that the City, judging from its history with the festival does not care about, and to which successive Carnival administrations have failed to advance and exploit in order for the festival to obtain substantial increase in its funding, present a superb product, and have the respect it deserves.

There was no Montreal International Jazz Festival, Montreal Gay Parade or even a Canada Day Parade in Montreal when Carifiesta was launched.

July 9th, 2011 marks Carifiesta’s thirty-seventh (37) birthday, yet the festival continues to be a top spinning in mud.

While expectations are that the new management of CCFA will get the job done, the scars of ineptitude and lack of vision by past Carnival organisers are so deep that CCFA faces a steep uphill climb. That is further compounded as the City feels it is doing our Community a favour in allowing us Carifiesta.

CCFA is on probation with this parade. They must do it right; have it running smoothly, and by inference, present a quality product in spite of the short notice (three and a half months) and consistent annual low funding- 30,000$.

Defenders of the paltry sum points to the hidden expense of security, clean-up and the loss of parking revenue on the route and so on, which run into hundreds of thousands of dollars as mitigating, but it’s all b.s.

The City has no problem bearing those same costs for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Gay Parade and so on. Additionally, it has no problem with the loss of parking revenue when it shuts down certain areas to traffic for playoff hockey or to facilitate pedestrian traffic in certain areas for the entire summer.

Nonetheless, it is that “hidden cost” Montreal City Hall Councillor Marcel Tremblay, the brother of our mayor Gerald Tremblay used in 2005, as an excuse to question the relevance of Carifiesta, as detailed in “Fail or Prevail? The Choice Is Yours” in the previous Community Contact.

The City also demanded that the CCFA inform both residents and businesses along the parade route of the parade. This was a first. Anyhow it’s sliced; it cuts into the operational budget of the CCFA both in terms of manpower and finance, and given its budget…

Such a demand shows the contempt to which the City holds Carifiesta. By virtue of its office, the City has the machinery and money to make light work of that task. It’s akin to CCFA telling businesses, “Be prepared for an infusion of cash from Blacks,” but without reciprocity. The politics and attitude of City Hall to Carifiesta is obvious to the discerning.

Regardless as to what part of the world they are held, Carnivals are a tourist attraction and a generator of huge revenues. City administrations/government and businesses gladly invest for the economic benefits to merchants, restaurateurs and hoteliers among others and themselves is worth it.

According to our very own Quebec Winter Carnival website, its 2009 operating budget was $8.6 million and it resulted in “direct economic repercussions of $48 million.”

In 2005, the Ontario government invested $400,000 in Caribana and the City of Toronto $384,000. In 2009, the Federal government invested $415,000 into Caribana. The Ipsos Reid Economic Impact Study of Caribana 2009, released in April 2010, revealed it injected $438 million into Ontario’s economy.

The City of Montreal 30,000$ must be seen in the light of stinginess, and they not giving a damn about the festivity. Perchance because it emanates from Black hands and they believe they don’t need it because their economic cup floweth over from the City’s International Jazz Festival.

There was a time when the Carifiesta parade brought close to a million visitors to Montreal. People came from American cities like New York, Washington, Virginia, Boston, Philadelphia, and Buffalo, as well as from the Caribbean for the occasion. With Ottawa and Toronto just down the 401, thousands upon thousands of Ontarians with or without West Indian or Montreal roots descended upon our fair city.

Since the hotels downtown were filled by tourists coming for the jazz festival, all the motels on Rue St. Jacques were filled by Black tourists coming to town for the carnival.

Until its demolition and replacement with a Canadian Tire outlet, all the rooms in Belvedere Motel on Rue St. Jacques were annually reserved for the carnival weekend by Hawks International, a social club whose headquarters is in New York.

Montreal has no Black area or a Black neighbourhood. The Carifiesta Parade is not held in the vicinity where there are Black, Caribbean/West Indian or African merchants. White businesses remain the primary beneficiary of the expenditure of Blacks during Carifiesta. No merchant along the parade route is ever going to refuse a dollar from the Black consumer. Yet, as referenced in the last issue, Councillor Marcel Tremblay had no qualms stating, “No one wants us.”

Encounter with a racist mindset is not foreign to the black experience. People of African descent have long recognised that some would prefer us to disappear than embrace us. However, the State has a moral authority to be fair to its citizenry irrespective to skin pigmentation, religion or sexual orientation.

Rather than making “no one wants us” a card of trumps, so the City was doing the Community a favour, the councillor, as representing City Hall, ought to oppose any who seek to exclude Blacks from participating fully in the society. After all, Blacks have been in Quebec since 1406. Once again, leadership failed to put a knife to such a deserving throat.

On July 25, 2005, Mayor Gerald Tremblay and his wife Suzanne snipped the ribbon to kick off the Gay Pride Parade. In blessing the event, the mayor sported a VIQ badge – “Very Important Queer badge.” I can’t ever remember him showing any such solidarity or love to Carifiesta.

While St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the oldest street parade in the province, and is culturally important to the Irish, it does not bring tourism to the city or pump additional revenue into its coffers the way Carifiesta does.

Every major city has more or less their St. Patrick’s Day Parade. As such, that of Montreal depends entirely on the support from locals. Sure, its spectators are going to indulge in a couple of pints and Irish pubs are going to make some extra cash, but it’s a pittance compared to the overall boost to the economy that Carifiesta brings.

So in spite of Carifiesta outstripping St. Patrick’s Day in terms of financial contribution to the economy and attendance, there is a great divide in the way both festivals are treated by City Hall.

For starters, the Irish are given royal treatment. The City of Montreal paints its main thoroughfare green for their parade while Carifiesta’s route is on one side-street or another.

The City never saw fit to gage the economic impact of Carifiesta because they do not care for it. Sadly, the failure of leadership to make the economic impact of Carifiesta matter, to solicit corporate/private sector sponsorship, seek funding from Quebec’s Tourist Ministry as it brings tourists to the province, and to sell Carifiesta as part of the tapestry that makes citizens with Caribbean roots proud to be Quebecers and Canadians, have us in the current mess.

Carifiesta has within itself the potential to become a cultural and economic powerhouse for the Community. CCFA can only take us out of this morass if they’re willing to hire a worthy development consultant, or have a consultation committee to engage in brainstorming, strategic planning, to advise, inform and formulate sound business policies, and is given 100 per cent community support.

I have long been an advocate of rebooting Carifiesta to make it better and financially viable as evidenced by the Community Contact Volume 1, Number 11 May 1993, article, “Plain Talk Bad Manners: Suspend Carifete.”

In the article I decried the 35,000$ funding, felt that the two months notice given for its staging by the City was an insult. It undermined having a professionally executed and successful festival, and described the Carifete Committee as co-conspirators to ensure we remain an invisible minority.

The 2010 suspension of Carifiesta and the court case between CCFA and MCDF placed retooling the festival in limbo. It’s a shame that after three decades Carifiesta is still in diapers. My hope is that the CCFA does not turn out to be “old wine in new bottles,” but who we were waiting on.

It pains to see Carifiesta and Jamaica Day on the same day. But as Ms. Emmanuella Borgella, CCFA’s vice-president explained, the organisation was first given July 2nd, and then the City changed it to the 9th. In the spirit of cooperation they were cross-promoting Jamaica Day as well- attend Carifiesta then go to Jamaica Day. That being said, Happy Carnival!