June 12, 2020
The Hon. Chrystia Freeland
Deputy Prime Minister
Chair, Cabinet Committee on the federal response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
The Hon. Catherine McKenna
Minister of Infrastructure & Communities
The Hon. Bill Morneau Minister of Finance
The Hon. Mary Ng
Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade
OPEN LETTER RE: EMERGENCY COVID-19 FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO SAVE THE PACIFIC NATIONAL EXHIBITION (PNE)
I write to you today as a matter of some urgency, as the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE), a 110-year old cultural institution in my riding, grapples with its very survival due to the revenue losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
BC Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has already said that large scale festivals & gatherings such as the PNE are "not going to happen" this year. If the PNE is to survive the pandemic, access to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) is essential.
While the PNE is owned by the City of Vancouver, it is a not-for-profit organization that operates at arms-length, with an independent Board of Directors, and is financially independent from the City of Vancouver, filing taxes as a 149(1)d.5 non-profit. It is not funded by civic, provincial or federal funds. The PNE reinvests its positive surplus revenue generated by activities on site back into the organization. In addition, it is very engaged with the local community and provides sponsorship to countless community activities.
Since 1975, the PNE had been registered as a charity under the Income Tax Act. However, in 2014, the PNE had its 40 years of status as a registered charity under the Income Tax Act annulled. This annulment took effect as of July 12, 2014, when the Harper Conservative government’s 2014 Economic Action Plan came into force. At that time the Harper government advised the PNE that they were removing charitable status from large Fairs across the country, starting with the PNE on the west coast and moving east, stating that in the 1970s charitable status that had been granted to Fairs was made in error. Since the revocation of the PNE's charitable status, the federal government has not subsequently followed through with the annulment of the charitable status for other Fairs across the country.
As such, this meant that all the other Fairs across the country were able to access the CEWS at this difficult time, however, the PNE is the only fair that has been deemed ineligible. If the PNE is unable to access the CEWS, it would mean that they would not be able to have the non-seasonal staff do the necessary work to plan for a return in 2021. This would be devastating as it would spell the end for this 110-year-old organization.
I first corresponded with you about the situation faced by the Pacific National Exhibition (the PNE) on April 21, 2020. PNE President & CEO Shelley Frost advised that at that time, “Since March 15th the PNE had 249 event cancellations totalling over $8.2 M in revenue. The loss of a summer operating season (Playland and PNE Fair) will result in another $42 million in revenue losses by November 2020...The PNE‘s only financial safety net is a $15 million credit line. With COVID shutting down the economy at the start of our spring revenue season, the PNE goes deeper into that credit line daily. We have minimized expenses, shut down services to various buildings on site and conducted maximum level layoffs to maintain as much room as we can within that credit line for the coming months. But once that credit line is maxed out, we have no options.”
The PNE has taken many measures to reduce its costs, including the lay-off of some 120 full-time union and management staff; another 1600 part-time staff are also not working, and the remaining management staff have already taken a pay cut. These job losses are in addition to the 2500 seasonal staff that are usually employed at the PNE’s seasonal peak.
Furthermore, the economic spin-offs of the Fair at the PNE are far-reaching, and they estimate their local economic impact is over $200 million each year. In addition to the thousands of people employed by the PNE itself, thousands more are employed by vendors, sponsors and suppliers. Many local businesses in my riding benefit from the hundreds of thousands of Fair visitors who pass through the Hastings-Sunrise corridor. Many families’ livelihoods depend upon its survival.
The PNE is also more than a major economic driver and employer in my riding. In the words of singer Michael Bublé, whose career launched after winning a talent competition at the PNE, as he said in 2010 to mark the PNE’s 100th anniversary celebration: “It’s one of the few places where generations of people can share common memories...Whether it’s of a first job or a first fair ride, a concert or a hockey game, PNE memories are part of the fabric of Vancouver and BC.”
The PNE is home to Playland, a 15-acre amusement park where generations of children from East Van enjoyed their first taste of cotton candy, and one of the best Wooden Roller Coasters remaining anywhere; and it’s home to Fright Nights, an annual Hallowe’en celebration that draws thrill seekers from across the Lower Mainland of BC – and gives many emerging actors one of their first regular gigs.
The PNE is a gathering place for people of all cultures and backgrounds. Hoobiyee has been celebrated at the PNE Forum for many years. Almost every pop music act you can imagine has graced the stage at the PNE, at the Coliseum or the Agrodome over the decades.
The PNE is a piece of Canada’s business heritage, the place where thousands upon thousands of entrepreneurs have pitched to the public their latest and greatest ideas in exhibition halls, vendor booths, and food trucks. Many a newcomer to Canada has launched their business here.
The Fair at the PNE is a part of Canada’s proud agricultural heritage, and, for many people who live in the urban setting of Vancouver, it’s the one opportunity they have as city dwellers to interact with and gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the agricultural sector that puts food on our table.
All of this underscores the importance of the PNE across the generations in Vancouver East. Therefore, I urge that you work to provide the PNE with access to the CEWS, or an equivalent wage subsidy, so that the people of Vancouver East can be a part of this institution for another 110 years.
I thank you for considering this and will look forward to your prompt reply.
MP for Vancouver East