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The Rolling Stones SARS Stimulus Package
21/05/2003
Last week it was announced that The Rolling Stones have agreed to perform at a free-admission concert in Toronto this summer to help the city shake off its SARS stigma. Other acts have been mentioned as joining the concert, including The Barenaked Ladies, The Tragically Hip, and Diana Krall. The concert would be at Downsview (where the Pope was last year) and could attract nearly a million people. The catch is that someone has to cover the costs of the concert, and they have been estimated at up to $10 million. The sponsor of the bill is MP Dennis Mills (of the infamous NHL subsidy). So far, he has yet to convince his federal colleagues to promise any money. Predictably, The Canadian Alliance and Ralph Klein are upset about the idea of spending any government money on this. As well, some City councillors are opposed:
  • Doug Holyday wants to charge an entrance fee
  • Joe Mihevc thinks the money would be more wisely spent on other summer events rather than a "one time bang" concert
However, the idea is quite a good one given the particular needs that Toronto has right now. Here's my rationale:
  1. Toronto's reputation as a destination safe for people from out-of-town, out-of-the-province, and out-of-the-country has been damaged as a result of high-profile bad publicity, and will be slow to recover without a high-profile response. This has damaged the hospitality, entertainment and transportation industries
  2. Local Torontonians have gotten back to life as usual and it is not to us that the city needs to be promoted. An event that can attract the attention of people in a wide radius is required. Normally, I would agree with Joe Mihevc that we should promote small, local events over big "name-brand" ones, but this case is different.
  3. This is a time for help from the federal government. SARS is an international phenomenon, and it is the kind of thing that we, as a country should stick together over. All other parts of the country have had disasters of one kind of another -- droughts, floods, fisheries, etc. -- and they have been helped by the federal government and Toronto tax dollars. It's just fair that Toronto taxpayers get some help when they need it. (And it's not like this money is simply going into the pockets of millionaires. The artists are performing for free, the costs are for staging.)
For these reasons, I think a summer concert event of this sort would be effective, and both federal and provincial government support would be just. Every effort should be made to work on local private sector funding, and I actually expect that it should be easy to build up a good group of sponsors. Either way, it's money well spent. I also disagree with Doug Holyday about charging a price. There is just a huge psychological difference between a FREE concert and a concert with a price, even if it's $5.
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