British Columbia

PNE's long-term survival at risk without federal help, union and fair officials say

Other Canadian exhibitions like Toronto's CNE, the Calgary Stampede and Edmonton's Klondike Days are receiving emergency federal funding, but the PNE is ineligible.

The 110-year-old exhibition ineligible for emergency COVID-19 funding because it is owned by the city

The PNE stands to lose $10 million this year if it doesn't get emergency COVID-19 financial aid from the federal government, according to its CEO. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The union representing over 4,000 workers at the Pacific National Exhibition says the very survival of the British Columbia institution is at risk because it does not qualify for federal emergency COVID-19 funding.

CUPE 1004 is calling on Finance Minister Bill Morneau to step in and help the century-old exhibition, which is ineligible for the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy because it is owned by the City of Vancouver.

"Compared to other, similar organizations, the PNE has been left behind," said CUPE 1004 president Andrew Ledger.

"Many of our members have worked there for decades and decades, and it's vital for them to have the PNE be functional and not be another casualty of the pandemic."

According to the PNE's president and CEO, other Canadian entities like Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition, the Calgary Stampede and Edmonton's Klondike Days are receiving emergency federal funding.

"The wage subsidy does not apply to municipalities," said Shelley Frost. "And the way that we are categorized, the way we file our taxes ... we fall into that same stream, although we are financially independent and operate separately from the city."

The wooden roller coaster is one of the highlights of Playland at the PNE. (David Horemans/CBC)

The PNE operates as a year-round, not-for-profit on the East Vancouver site, receiving no government funding.

Normally, the annual 17-day summer fair is the mainstay of operations, but this year's event — which was scheduled to start later this month — was cancelled in April due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Frost says as a result, the PNE will generate only $8 million in revenue this year, down from the $60 million that was expected.

She says without emergency financial aid, the PNE will lose between $10 million and $11 million this year.

"That's devastating to an organization," she said. "That makes recovery extremely, extremely challenging."

Customers buy mini-donuts at the drive-thru mini donut event at the PNE in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, May 22, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

CUPE 1004 says it and other PNE unions have written to Morneau and the federal government but have received no response. 

The union is now urging British Columbians to sign on to its Save the PNE campaign where they can send messages to Finance Minister Morneau calling for federal action.

CUPE 1004 says the coronavirus pandemic has put 1,600 part-time PNE workers out of work. In addition, 100 full-time staff have been laid off and the annual hiring of 2,500 seasonal workers put on hold.

Ledger says despite the setbacks, workers are still dedicated to keeping the PNE viable.

"But we need the federal government to step in or there won't be a PNE for CUPE members to help rebuild," he said.

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