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Increased attendance at CNE shows ‘people are ready to return back to norm’

An increase in the number of people attending the first Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) since 2019 is a clear indication that people are craving a return to normalcy after more than two years dealing with COVID-19, the event’s CEO says.

Darrell Brown says attendance was over 1 million by the middle of last week, a 10 per cent increase when compared to 2019.

He says even though the last four days have not been of the best weather, they managed to attract about 110,000 people on Sunday, adding that number could have gotten to 150,000 if it were a good forecast.

“All told, we expect to be between 1.4 [and] 1.5 million people overall for the entire fair,” Brown told CBC Toronto.

“It says to me that people are ready to return back to norm, even though there are still risks out there. They want to socialize and they want to be able to be together with family and friends,” so that’s a good sign.”

Brown says, ‘People are ready to return back to norm, even though there are still risks out there.’ (CBC)

‘People are spending a lot more,’ Brown says

The CNE was held from Aug. 19 to Sept. 5

Brown says the 18-day far typically attracts people from all age groups and all income groups, and that’s still holding. 

“So, even some of the more susceptible groups, like the older aged adults that might have been staying away, perhaps because of COVID risks, they didn’t,” he said.

“The other key thing is that people are spending a lot more. So, on an individual basis they’re buying more from vendors, they’re seemingly staying on the rides longer, spending a lot more on rides. 

“Talking to vendors, they’re indicating anywhere from 40 per cent to 100 per cent up from the norm,” he added.

‘It’s been a game of roulette,’ union boss says

The CNE has had to grapple with safety inspectors — represented by Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) — being on strike over the course of the fair.

President JP Hornick says she’s relieved to see that the fair went by without any major incident.

“It’s been a game of roulette. The CNE hired and engaged in a series of self inspections and the TSSA [Technical Standards and Safety Authority] has engaged in a process of using supervisors who may or may not have been in the field for a while. And they’re falling further and further behind on the types of inspections to ensure that Ontarians are safe,”  Hornick  told CBC Toronto.

“So the CNE grounds, you know, we considered that scabbed labour. There were people that were doing the work that should have been done by these certified inspectors and I feel really lucky that nothing went wrong during the course of the CNE.”

OPSEU president JP Hornick says she’s relieved to see that the fair went by without any major incident. (CBC)

In total, 170 safety inspectors employed by TSSA walked off the job on July 21. They’ve been negotiating since November 2021.

The union demands include addressing wage inequality, substandard pay, and micromanagement.

CNE faces uncertain future

Meanwhile,coming off this year’s success, the CNE CEO says the exhibition’s future may not be certain. 

“We don’t even have an agreement with the city and Exhibition Place at this point in terms of usage of facilities for next year,” Brown said.

Brown says the Ex might be looking at a smaller sized event due to redevelopment projects near the Exhibition Place grounds.

He says those include an updated GO station, a TTC expansion and new hotel.

The city’s also looking to revamp BMO Field ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

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