Bread and Circuses Nanaimo Style

Ron Bolin: April 19, 2016


“… -everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”  (Juvenal, Satire 10.77–81)

Juvenal here makes reference to the Roman practice of providing free wheat to Roman citizens as well as costly circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power.


The last two Council meetings have demonstrated how Nanaimo handles its Bread and Circuses.  On April 11, Council received an appreciation from Loaves and Fishes for the generosity of Nanaimo’s Council and Citizens in providing $275,000 in seed funding in 2014 which allowed the acquisition of a building permitting the efficient collection and dissemination of food to those in Nanaimo in need of nutritional assistance.  See:


A week later, on April 18, Council received a request to reaffirm a former conditional grant of $4.6 million dollars to the Port Theatre Society to be applied to the development of a 220-seat Flexible Studio Theatre and 2 Rehearsal Spaces anticipated to cost approximately $13 million dollars (which is, interestingly, about the same as it cost to build the Port Theatre in the first place in 1998). See:


In these two presentations we find the return of the bread we cast upon the waters of Loaves and Fishes and the search for more Circuses by the Port Theatre Society with the Circuses requesting nearly 17 times the amount of money provided for Bread.

Or should we be talking about a Tale of Two Cities:  The former made up of those who need help to survive and the latter of those who, on the whole, survive quite nicely but desire  entertainment at a level above that generally available?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not against those who have the money to pay for high class entertainment whether it is in the theatre, the rink, the course or the pool, but I do object to those already precariously balanced on the fulcrum of survival paying through their taxes for the entertainments of those not burdened by sheer survival.  Those who aspire to the accoutrements of wealth should pay for their pleasures themselves.  We would all love to live as Princes and Princesses, and power to those who can manage it without theft, but property taxation, in my opinion, is too regressive for applications like those of the PTS.

And, as in the original approval of the $4.6 million dollars for this this theatre expansion, Monday’s motion to reaffirm  the $4.6 million if the PTS raises the balance needed to pay for the $13 million dollar facility, there was no stated timetable in which their fund raising efforts must be completed, thus planting a financial land mine without limit.  Nor is there any contingency plan if the PTS is successful in getting a grant from the federal government that is insufficient to cover the remainder of the $8.6 million dollar hole in the budget.  Too often taxpayers have been saddled with picking up the pieces of projects gone bad.

There are good reasons why Mr. Halliday could say in his presentation that the PTS has “no accumulated debt”.  In point of fact, an examination of the City’s Statements of Financial Information in which the City is obligated to report the recipients of City salaries over $75,000 or contracts and grants over $25,000 since 2006, shows that in the period between 2006 and 2014) the Port Theatre Society received $879,549 in contracts and $4,191,452 in grants from the City for a total of $5,071,001 dollars.

Again to summarize, each to his/her own entertainment.  But the question is, when should that entertainment be subsidized by taxing all taxpayers, including those with little between them and total poverty and of which Nanaimo is known to have a near record in the Province.  There needs to be a discussion of what activities over and above those required to meet the infrastructure requirement of a City, i.e. roads, water, sewer, electricity, telephone, development and the monitoring of the above, is fair game for special wants?  It remains to be seen to what extent this question may be discussed in the upcoming Core Review.

Your comments on this situation are sought.