cne picket lines

CNE performers and vendors debate crossing the picket line

The cheery CNE this year has had a slightly gloomy thorn in its side that’s impossible to ignore: a picket line that every visitor to the carnival implicitly crosses.

But what about the performers providing entertainment throughout the festival?

Toronto-based alt-pop R&B singer-songwriter Ezra Jordan “was a little concerned” when he heard about the picketing at the CNE, but he reveals that “as a Musicians Union member I was not permitted to drop out of the contract I had signed to perform due to the protest.” 

It appears the CNE’s focus this time has been keeping things rolling according to plan and minimizing the picket line outside. “Not much of it was made to us,” says Jordan. “I never actually even saw the line.”

“We stand behind better wages for all people,” says Menno Versteeg of Canadian band Hollerado. He says their union apparently does nothing for them, and as musicians their pay is controlled solely by what they’re worth on the free market.

He understands that their unstable economic situation as a band may make playing the CNE seem oxymoronic to some, but emphasizes that this one Toronto gig during the summer is crucial to supporting not only themselves, but Hollerado’s entire team.

In order to land this one big paycheck, the gig is agreed upon months in advance, and not only pays the band’s rent for months but also goes towards Hollerado’s own sound, light and guitar techs.

He also makes the point that fans who bought tickets in advance wouldn’t be refunded. Additionally, it’s important to understand that the picketing workers are actually employed by the grounds the CNE and many other events take place on, not the Ex itself. Workers actually rallied at city hall as well (but there’s no cotton candy there).

“As for Eat My Bowls, we are contracted by the CNE to be here, as are hundreds of other vendors,” says food vendor Brad Fennema. “We’ve been told that the dispute is between Exhibition Place, the landlord of the CNE, and IATSE Local 58.

We stand with the members of @iatse58 #58lockedout

A post shared by Julian Taylor Band (@juliantaylorband) on

The Julian Taylor Band echoes both Fennema’s sentiment of being contracted to play by the CNE, as well as as Versteeg’s stance for better wages for all.

Some bands like Birds of Bellwoods will even be going so far as to spend time on the actual picket line on the day of their performance. Like the Julian Taylor Band, they have no hesitations about sharing the sentiments of union representatives on their social media platforms and from the stage.

“We, like many other vendors, hope to see the issue resolved,” says Fennema. “The impact of the lockout has been felt at all levels, and all we can do is keep our chins up and look forward to next year.”

Lead photo by


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