I was on the radio yesterday for my weekly appearance on CKNW's civic affairs panel when the calls started to roll in about how upset people were that the annual fireworks festival was a victim of our recession.
For hundreds of thousands of residents and tourists, the summer fireworks festival has simply become a part of our culture. In the case of local restaurants, bars and corner stores, it was a huge financial windfall. The announcement this week that the fireworks society had run out of money was upsetting, but it came as no surprise.
When I worked in the Mayor's Office, I had the opportunity to meet many of the volunteers who worked on the board of the fireworks festival society. They have worked tirelessly over the last decade to keep the event operating and they deserve a lot of praise.
If you recall, the event used to be called the Benson and Hedges Symphony of Fire. When the federal goverment banned cigarette manufacturers from sponsoring these types of events, the clock began ticking on the festival's future. The loss of a major corporate sponsor proved to be a major challenge for the society in subsequent years.
The current recession is now hitting everyone hard. Discretionary spending, such as the sponsorship of a fireworks festival, is simply no longer an option for many companies. It's now a matter of survival and trying to keep as much of their workforce employed for as long as possible.
The City of Vancouver did all that it could to save this wonderful summer event. It was investing something like $750K per year to help keep it afloat. A major commitment indeed. However, the same could not be said for other city governments in Metro Vancouver.
Despite hundreds of thousands of people from cities such as Burnaby, New Westminster and Langley attending the Celebration of Light festivities, not a single other municipality was prepared to financially support it. The rationale was, "why would we support it when Vancouver gets all of the benefits". My response is...they do?
At a cost of $750K per year, the fireworks ended up costing the Vancouver money every year. With the possible exception of some additional parking revenue, the City was basically out-of-pocket for hosting the event. No PST revenue. No GST revenue. No hotel tax revenue. No gas tax revenue. Nada.
If this event were being held in Toronto or Montreal, I day say that they would have found a way to keep it alive. Rather, Metro Vancouver had Mayors pointing fingers at each other claiming that their community benefits more than the other when it comes to the fireworks. Clearly this it symptomatic of a bigger problem in Metro Vancouver.
The collapse of this event is surely a reminder that it's time for Metro Vancouver Mayors to begin working more closely together on issues beyond sewers and road repairs.
So in the end, the biggest, most inexpensive family event held in North America is now history. I have no doubt that we will once again begin hearing people refer to Vancouver as "No Fun City". I hope not, however, given the current budget crisis, perhaps "No Funds City" is more appropriate.
As a community, the fact we couldn't find $4 million bucks per year to keep Celebration of Light alive is an embarrassment. Especially in view of the fact Metro Vancouver is hosting the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Games in about 12 months.
Isn't it ironic that Metro Vancouver could find $605 million dollars to give the cleanest water in North America the Brita treatment, but we couldn't find the funds to keep this treasured civic event alive. What a shame.