‘Save the PNE!’: CEO, labour union call on new feds to offer COVID relief

The PNE is Canada’s only national fair that’s ineligble for federal funds

The Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) and the union representing fairground staff are calling on Canadian politicians at all levels of government to make federal COVID subsidies available to the PNE, union and fair officials said Thursday (Aug.20).

PNE president Shelley Frost explained in a phone interview that the fair doesn’t qualify for the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy because it’s owned by the City of Vancouver and the subsidy isn’t available to municipalities.

The PNE had been a Crown corporation owned by the province before it was sold to the City of Vancouver in 2004, she continued. Frost elaborated that City Hall owns the fairgrounds at Hastings Park and that City Council approves the PNE’s board of directors who run the fair and the park’s year-round events.

Shelly Frost is the President and CEO of the PNE (Laura Balance Media Group)

“If we would’ve known our change in ownership would’ve cut us off from federal benefits, we would’ve fought it,” said Frost, who confirmed the PNE lost $52 million when it cancelled this year’s fair and a host of year-round events due to COVID. The PNE has since laid off roughly half of its management personnel and almost all of its unionized workers in a bid to stay financially viable, she added.

Frost maintained that the CRA’s policy on federal benefits leaves the PNE in the unique position where it can’t access the federal pandemic relief open to Canada’s other renowned fairs like the Calgary Stampede and Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition.

“Every MLA and every MP I’ve spoken to acknowledges that this is not an intended omission, but nobody knows how to fix it,” Frost said.

While she insisted she “won’t ever be the one to say we can’t make it,” Frost said the PNE will have taken on at least $11 million in debt by year’s end. And while she said the PNE’s creditors have been flexible, she noted they expect the board to start paying off its line of credit in 2021.

It will take up to ten years for the organization to pay off its COVID debts, said Frost.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees local 1004, which represents the PNE’s 4,200 full- and part-time workers, has launched a “Save the PNE” campaign to secure workers’ job security and make federal money available for seasonal staff who weren’t hired in 2020.

Local president Andrew Ledger confirmed Thursday that 800 Lower Mainland residents have added their names to an online petition to federal finance minister Chrystia Freeland, and NDP legislators Jenny Kwan and Melanie Mark, who represent the PNE’s ridings in parliament and the B.C. legislature.

The PNE will open to the public on Saturday (Aug. 22) for a much smaller, drive-thru fair, said spokesperson Laura Balance.

She said the fair generates $200 million in the local economy every year and is a “first-job employer” to thousands of new and young Canadians and those facing barriers to the job market.


 

@ltritsch1
laurie.tritschler@grandforksgazette.ca

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