'Dire' circumstances could mean an end to the PNE, Vancouver mayor says in plea for $8M

A beloved summer tradition in Vancouver could be coming to an end, the city's mayor warned in a plea for funding Friday.

Kennedy Stewart asked for money from the province to save the Pacific National Exhibition.

He said to keep the summer fair and other shows going after the pandemic, the PNE would need $8 million in emergency aid.

"COVID-19 restrictions have taken a significant toll on PNE revenue generation," Stewart said during a virtual news conference. "The outlook is so dire that the PNE, as we now know and love it, could end, despite the City of Vancouver backstopping the PNE's ever-growing line of credit."

Stewart said a unanimously supported motion was brought to city council this week to ask the province for the funding he says is required to keep the venue afloat. It's an action officials have taken to protect other community events and causes in the past, he said.

Coun. Lisa Dominato, who brought the emergency motion to council, did so following an update on Vancouver's Playland amusement park. The park was set to open imminently when further restrictions prompted by COVID-19 were put in place in B.C.

Following the new rules banning intraprovincial travel, the decision was made that Playland's reopening would be delayed at least until after the May long weekend.

“We do know that outside is safer than inside, but we are at a very challenging time right now in this pandemic and this is not the time that we want to see people coming together for recreational reasons,” said B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry during Monday’s COVID-19 briefing.

“This is an evolving situation. Where we are trying to balance public health with economic well-being,” said Stewart on Friday.

Shelly Frost, the president and CEO of the PNE, says the historic institution continues to fall through the cracks of federal funding.

“When we look at a number of different programs through (the federal Heritage Ministry) and some of the COVID-19 recovery programs that have been made available to organizations, they’re very focused right now on organizations who already receive traditional annual funding,” Frost said. “Because we’ve been self-sufficient over the last few decades and we don’t receive money from the feds, we’ve been excluded from those programs as well.”

“A lot of lifelines have gone out to organizations who are very used to receiving grants as well as different lifelines to organizations who receive federal funding on a regular basis,” she added. “Because we don’t, we’ve been excluded.”

PNE representatives believe the organization would be a good investment for the province because it is the largest employer for youth in B.C.

“We provide 4,300 direct jobs and 9,500 indirect jobs. We generate $200 million in economic impact in our region,” Frost said.

The resolution approved by council was that the mayor will write to Premier John Horgan asking for support for the organization itself and the 600 employees who would normally be working at the site.