Monday, June 15, 2009

Is it a stage, a temporary stage, or a bunch of fences?

From the CBC Charlottetown comments page:

"PEI is more currupt than Mexico and Quebec put together."

That bit of inspired prose is from the comments section of this story.... but that is more of the sequel, I'll work up to it.

Last year, the Alanis Morissette concert ended up with less attendance than hoped. That company received around $400,000 from the provincial government, according to various media reports. The company changed ownership just before the show.

[Brief aside: anyone who knows me away from this here blog knows I know the person who originally held the company. That person is smart enough to not talk to a reporter about his business, which works out nice for both of us. I don't work there, I don't need to know. This entire screed is based on information found in the public prints.].

The Tourism Minister had to defend the investment, which, according to what I saw and watched, did not go so well:

From "Tourism minister grilled on losses from show" [by Teresa Wright... by the way, if I ever meet NJN Network, I'll tell him to wait a minute so I can go home and put on MY red raincoat and heels, so I could tell him to step off nice and proper].

From that story, you can find out that the Minister changed course a few times, including not releasing the original business plan, and saying that her department never asked the Liberal connected company that took over to take over.

Previously, she said she would provide the plan, and said that they asked that company to take over.

Enter "The Chair of the Island’s Tourism Advisory Council". A quick look at Open Corporations -- before it was shut down -- shows that person's connections very clearly, including financial partnerships with the promoter who took over the Alanis show.

The Chair is the same Chair whose board recommended this Cavendish Country Hoe Down. The chair's restaurants are now asking people to work for them for free at the concert.

That festival will be well backed. I have no problem with the Chair putting in a bid, if you eliminated everyone with a chance of receiving financial benefit from planning processes, those would be some empty meetings.

Thing is, if their low bid includes slave labour, shouldn't that raise a red flag?

Now we get to the point of this entire post. That $900,000 isn't for a stage. It is for a temporary stage and to upgrade facilities around the concert area. $900,000 -- matched by the promoters -- for a temporary stage, for a concert that already received $200,000 from the province. The promoters said they didn't need the $200,000.

Just a few weeks ago, this stage was being called permanent by the Tourism Minister. Now it is temporary, and almost $1 million of taxpayer dollars are going into a stage on private property.

From the original story is this nugget "No taxpayer money will be handed over until organizers prove the work has been done."

My question, what constitutes the work being done. I would have to assume that it means that a permanent stage is there.... not a fence to make sure the promoters don't get ripped off.

I know that McIntyre and McGraw are a huge deal to some folks. I also know that AC/DC, Paul McCartney, Kiss and Bon Jovi are playing the Maritimes this summer.

The promoters are predicting "tens of thousands" of people to come to Cavendish for the concert. I hope they are right. I think they are wrong.

I'll end with some things to ponder:

-- What determines success in Cavendish? 10,000 people? Tens of Thousands? Or setting up private promoters -- approved by a committee chaired by someone connected with the party in power and who stands to benefit financially -- to repeat this idea year after year?

-- What determines the work being complete on the stage? Is it temporary or permanent? Will they still get their money for a temporary stage?

-- How is it that the Tourism Minister can change her stance to suit circumstances (at least three times in this blog post alone) and not be challenged on it?

-- The explanation from the DM over at Tourism for the Alanis investment was "Our position has been going into it, and the rationale around supporting an event like a fall music festival, was to shore up the fall season." This one doesn't support that goal. What is their goal with this investment?

-- Finally, I wonder what will be the response on PEI if the Big Country Show doesn't do as well as hoped? Can we expect the personal venom I witnessed as a result of the Alanis show? Will we see the Tourism Minister go before a committee and try to put forward another changed position? Higher stakes and more money should equal more public outrage if things don't go well. My sneaking suspicion is that since it is country music, Islanders will just shut up and take it, but we will have to see. What I do know is that the fervor that surrounded the Alanis concert, if multiplied by dollars spent, would be huge.

What I learned with my small experience putting on musical events is that it is too damn risky for me to risk my future on. The Minister may be learning that lesson for herself, on the people's dime.

What I have learned as a journalist is that this entire Cavendish Festival needs to be Accesed to Information until it bleeds paper. There is a much bigger story going on.

It reeks of patronage, half-assed planning, and outright lies. What it needs is a blinding light of public interest until the truth comes out, whatever that may be.