After losing millions this year, the future of the CNE is in doubt

By Laura Carney

The executive director of the fair says unless there’s government help or the CNE is able to win leasing or licensing concessions from the city, it is possible the fair won’t be able to operate past 2021.

The CNE is reporting a loss of $6 million after the pandemic forced it to cancel this years event and is forecasting a 95 per cent drop in projected revenue, which works out to more than $35 million.

Executive Director Darrell Brown said the CNE is in the process of securing a loan under the federal business credit availability program, however he says it has to be repaid within a year, and the fair can’t earn enough in one season to pay it off.

“We have this event every year that has such a substantial impact not to mention the history and the heritage that attaches to it and the sentimentality, so it’s something that really should be accommodated as far as we’re concerned,” Brown explained.

Mayor John Tory said it’s not time to panic yet.

“We’ve been focused on the pandemic, but we will get to focus on this and we will sit with them and make sure that a treasured tradition in the city is obviously going to be there in 2021,” he said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that it is “critical” to help out the event.

If the federal government and city of Toronto assist, he said he is willing to contribute too, but he did not promise the CNE any specific relief.

“Old guys like myself remember going down to the CNE with $5 or $10 and you’d be down there all day. I never forget that you’d get that 25 cent spaghetti…the Double Bubble bubble gum and the food court,”‘ he said.

“It was fun and we need to help it because it’s something that we can’t let go of.”

The 18-day event generates $128 million in economic activity for the province annually, employs about 5,000 event workers every year – about 21 per cent of them with disabilities – and hosts between 1.4 million and 1.6 million people annually.

The event is making due this year by cutting back expenses by 85 per cent and hosting online activities including a talent competition, gaming tournament and tutorials on how to busk or make CNE favourites like 99-cent spaghetti or rainbow grilled cheese.

The 2021 Canadian National Exhibition dates are currently set for August 20 to September 6.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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