It’s time, according to Penticton Mayor Garry Litke, for the provincial government to create some guidelines for the growing number of large-scale festivals and summer events.
Litke plans to lobby Attorney General Susan Anton at the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting next month to introduce a set of criteria and implementation timelines for large scale operations like Boonstock and other festivals.
“And it should be all nailed down in an ironclad contract 60 days before an event happens, or it doesn’t happen,” he said.
It isn’t only Boonstock Litke is concerned with; he feels it is a national concern with a growing number of music festivals, and the problems existing ones can run into, like what happened to the former Merritt Mountain Music Festival.
“These events are becoming more and more popular and attracting more and more people. It’s not good enough to say ‘somebody might die, but that is the cost of doing business,’” said Litke, who was impressed with the music and the crowd at Boonstock.
“It seems that we have some enormous potential for doing something really positive. I was wishing that I could have ditched the RCMP and joined the crowd and had some fun too,” he said, adding that the concept was brilliant, but he was saddened by the attitude that a death isn’t unexpected.
“It is time for us to get a hold of that and bring it back to where it is a weekend of fun. Where people are not being hauled off to the hospital in a convoy of ambulances or being picked up out of the dirt because they have been laying there face first for the last half hour,” said Litke. “That is not my idea of a successful festival.”
Litke said the planning process for Boonstock inspired him to lobby the government.
“Because of the frustration I experienced in the last six months with trying to get some kind of commitment around security or liquor or policing or medical, and having absolutely no jurisdiction or authority,” said Litke. “Having to spend my entire long weekend beside the phone fretting about it, it was really a helpless feeling. There has to be a better way of doing it.”
Litke said the province is the only organization that has jurisdiction over the range of services that go into making a festival, from the RCMP to health and safety branches.
“They have within their power the availability to regulate, for example, there has to be potable water on site. Really basic things like that,” he said.
“If you came equipped, you had to abandon your water and then there was no water available unless you wanted to pay $4 a bottle,” he said, noting that early in the festival, Boonstock guests were told to pour out their water when entering the concert site over concerns the bottle might contain vodka or other clear liquors. Later, guests were allowed to bring in sealed containers.
Litke expects he will hear negative feedback that provincial regulations would mire existing festivals, like PeachFest, in red tape.
“You know what, for groups like PeachFest, it will be the work of an hour. It will be check, check, check, done,” he said, adding this is no different than the plan long-running festivals have been doing for decades.
“If you know there is going to be a deadline 10 months from now … I don’t think that is an unreasonable expectation,” he said.