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Clearing the air about Cornwall Lift-Off
Chris Savard

Clearing the air about Cornwall Lift-Off
In the past several weeks, there has been a great deal of misinformed chatter and unfair assaults on hard-working volunteers. Chris Savard, one of the founding members and a past Chair of Lift-Off, feels compelled to provide some facts into this debate and defend the volunteers who work hard to make these events happen.

Cornwall - Jul. 21, 2011 - In the past several weeks, there has been a great deal of misinformed chatter and unfair assaults on hard-working volunteers. There have been calls for the resignations of the volunteers who work hard to organize Canada Day and Lift-Off festivities. As one of the founding members and a past Chair of Lift-Off, I feel compelled to provide some facts into this debate and defend the volunteers who work hard to make these events happen.

The last festival that I was involved in was 2010, so I can not speak about decisions that were made by the Festival in 2011.

Why did Chris Savard step-down as Chair of Lift-Off?
On the Monday following Lift-Off 2010, I received a call that went in part like this, “Don’t panic. Something has happened to Tristan but he was responsive when he left in the ambulance.” At the time, our son was only six months old and was with his mother visiting family in Chatham Ontario. Needless to say it was a long seven hour journey that day across the province to get to see him. This episode was the beginning of a year that has seen Tristan take over 75 seizures. In addition, I knew I had a very busy year ahead of me at my place of employment. Priorities change, and that is why I stepped away from Lift-Off.

Lift-Off received $75,000 from Celebrate Ontario in 2010 which went towards a larger stage.
This is not true. Lift-Off received Celebrate Ontario money to enhance the entertainment line-up so that all three nights had the same calibre of entertainment. In 2010, Lift-Off booked Our Lady Peace, Randy Bachman and Chantal Kreviazuk as its headliners and had Crash Parallel, Jarvis Church and Lighthouse as its opening acts. In my opinion, this was by far the strongest entertainment line-up that Lift-Off has ever assembled. On top of the cost of booking the bands, there are considerable costs for sound, light, stage rentals, riders, accommodations, security, insurance and much more. No doubt the $75,000 grant from the province was helpful, but it represented only a small portion of the entertainment budget, not to mention the cost of the entire event.

It is wrong that Corus Entertainment is provided a three-year exclusivity contract at the Festival.
I am unaware of what has transpired in 2011, but prior to that, the deal with Corus was re-negotiated annually and as such it was not a three-year deal. In the 2010 deal, Corus was only provided the rights to be the exclusive English Radio sponsor. Lift-Off annually works closely with many other media partners to get their message out. TV Cogeco, Seaway News, Standard Freeholder, Le Journal de Cornwall, Le Carillon and others have long been proud sponsors of the festival.

Sponsors often pay for the rights to be the exclusive sponsor of events or portions of events. The Kinsmen Club has for eight years paid for a package that provides them with the exclusive right to have the festival called Kinsmen Cornwall Lift-Off. In another example, the festival can only serve a limited amount of beer and Sleeman generously stepped up to the plate and sponsored the festival for a period of five years.

Other exclusive sponsorship examples include Sun Life Cornwall Waterfest, Laurentien Bank Balloon Festival in St. Jean sur Richelieu, Cisco Bluesfest in Ottawa, the Tim Horton’s Brier, Sarnia Rogers Bayfest and the list goes on and on. Professional sports are no different. Bell pays a fee for the Montreal Canadiens to play in the Bell Centre, where the only beer you can buy is a Molson product. Molson has paid for that right. The Team 990 radio station paid a significant price to get the “exclusive” broadcast rights for the Habs games over the next seven years. The Senators play in Scotiabank Place and the Leafs play in the Air Canada Centre.

There has been far too much ill-informed, local banter about the exclusivity provided at Lift-Off. Organizations need to be creative in finding ways to generate revenue, so that they can keep ticket prices low.

For the record, Corus did write Lift-Off a cheque in 2010 for the rights to have their logos on the large, branded stage.

It isn’t right that Corus dictates the type of musical entertainment that Lift-Off books.
Again, this is not true. The final decision with respect to the scope of the entertainment budget and which musical acts are booked rests solely with the Festival Board. Having said that, it would not make sense for the Festival to book a headliner that your largest radio partner does not play on a regular basis. Further, the current formula has proven to be successful as tens of thousands of people attend each year, weather permitting.

It has been suggested many times that Lift-Off should bring in a country act or a Jazz act. The St. Lawrence Parks Commission has a far greater support mechanism than the group of volunteers that run Lift-Off. The Commission had tried for years, without success, to get a Country Festival to work in a great venue at Woodlands beach. In the mid-90’s, a group involving jazz legend Charlie Biddles was unsuccessful in starting a Jazz Festival. Corn Stalk has tried a couple of times and it no longer happens.

My point is, that the current model of hot air balloons, classic rock, new rock and pop music has proven to be successful, so why change it?

I would challenge the group of naysayers out there - the same people who have claimed to have organized hundreds of events in the past - to assemble a group of volunteers, find some sponsors and build an event. There are 51 other weekends a year and Lamoureux Park is a great venue. Have at it! Often times, the ones that complain the loudest are the same people that you never see volunteering themselves. It is much easier to stand back and criticize the hard-working volunteers.

Cornwall Lift-Off will not make their books available.
Each year, the festival pays to have audited financial statements prepared. These statements are shared with the Board and with the government funding agencies, when requested. Celebrate Ontario was provided with audited financial statements in both 2010 and 2011, as part of the grant applications that the Festival submitted. To the best of my knowledge, the City of Cornwall did not request any financial statements from Lift-Off when they granted the interest-free loan in 2011. There is no requirement for not-for-profit organizations to make their financial statements available to the public.

Councillor Andre Rivette owes the volunteers of Lift-Off an apology.
I have walked many miles in the shoes of a Cornwall City Councillor. As such, I respect that Coun. Rivette may not agree with the City providing an interest-free loan to groups like Lift-Off. I understand his concern about the precedent that this decision might set and his frustration if the City’s usual procedure was altered.

However, all he had to say was NO. As an elected community leader, there was no need to chastise and be-little the hundreds of volunteers who work so hard to stage this event.

His comment, “I will guarantee you, this is going to cost money, and who are you going to collect it from?” has proven to be false, as the loan has now been re-paid in full.

He made another misinformed comment about Lift-Off organizers: “What have they done to raise some dollars? In this case, they went back to the City well, that’s what they did.” In 2010, Lift-Off raised close to $650,000 to stage an event that brought in millions of dollars in economic benefit to the region. To put this number in perspective, that amount of money is very similar to the goal set by the United Way of Cornwall and SDG.

For the Councillor to guarantee that the Festival would be unable to repay the loan and that the committee should go out and raise some dollars, is simply unfair. Coun. Rivette needs to do the right thing and publicly apologize.

In conclusion, I will say that I have been extremely bothered by some of the local comments. Comments such as “the extremely poor performance of the “volunteers’” and “there are so many opportunities to make Lift-Off better which is the good news, but that won’t happen until this board has been house cleaned.”

The volunteer board members, balloon crews, ticket takers, beer servers, stage helpers and others give freely of their time and spend countless hours working hard in the heat to make a difference for the residents of our community. Perhaps, you may not always agree with how things have been organized, but never lose site of the fact that these volunteers choose to freely donate their time. They do not deserve to be criticized, challenged or asked to resign based on personal biases.

As the summer moves along and more volunteer events take place in our area, I would encourage those of you reading this to do two things. First, take the time to get out and support the many worthwhile events in our area and when you do, stop a volunteer or two and simply say THANK YOU to them for working so hard to make our region a better place to live.

We often hear people say remember the Cornwall Royals? Remember the bath tub races? Remember the old canal? As a community, we should be rallying behind Lift-Off so we never hear - remember that balloon festival we used to have?

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