Osoyoos Car show organizers ponder the future as unhappiness surfaces

Cactus Jalopies out of gas?

The lustre of the highly successful Cactus Jalopies car show has already begun wearing off after ill feelings bubbled to the surface following the close of the event last weekend with the added spectre of potentially losing the event to Penticton.

In a post on social media JF Launier, the originator of the show and master automotive craftsman, came out swinging with harsh criticism of the town and its leadership over what he sees as a lack of support and appreciation for what the event brings to the town.

Launier’s post read in part: “And there we were. A small group of volunteers and no thank you from the mayor or any of our town leaders. This town is a mess when it comes to leadership and it’s real purpose.

“If this is officially the biggest event this town has ever had at the beach boasting 10,000 plus visitors and 700 plus participants plus spouses, you would think someone from council or Destination Osoyoos, or Chamber of Commerce would applaud such an effort. But alas nothing but crickets.

“It’s bloody shameful of the leadership in our community,” he wrote.

Speaking to the Times Chronicle Launier said he and a core group - nine people this year - that includes his parents Francine and Ben, have been doing the event for nearly 20 years through four different town administrations.

“We’ve gone from administrations who put their own staff in place to help us and make it logistically easier to do, to administrations that make it very difficult and put up enough roadblocks and make it complicated enough that we don’t want to do it anymore.”

Indeed this is the limbo that the wildly popular event - which had a record 687 cars in the show this year - is now stuck in.

“It’s a 100 per cent guarantee that we’re not doing it next year. We’re too burnt out. Going forward I don’t know what it looks like,” he says.

JF’s father Ben expressed similar sentiments. “All the work that we do is taking its toll on us, especially Francine. We take probably 2/3 of the load, Francine and I spend at least three to four months of continuous work to actually put it all together,” he said.

“Francine takes responsibility for just about everything and it’s taking a toll on her,” he said adding that “for myself, I’ve got other things in life that I want to do apart from taking care of a car show.”

The problem for JF is really about what he sees as a lack of support from the town. “For me, it’s frustrating personally when I see how easy it has been in the past to put on the event.”

“We had to pick up all the barricades ourselves and we had to pay for our porta potties, it’s these small details that kind of explain the issue,” he says. This also includes things like road closures and garbage collection as well which all fall to organizers to deal with.

He also notes that in the past there was a dedicated person from the town that helped with paperwork and permits and so on.

“It’s working together in harmony that’s completely lacking,” he adds. “Does it have to be this much of a fight?” he asks.

“It’s a lack of good leadership in this town as far as I’m concerned.”

Responding to the criticism Mayor Sue McKortoff said: “I find that very unfortunate, it's very demeaning to say that.”

“Our public works was very involved in providing them what they needed, our community services, our fire department, our town hall staff, our bylaw, police, they were all helping with these events,” she said.

She added that town staff were running around on Friday getting things that were needed for the event.

Similarly Rod Risling Osoyoos Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) said the town did assist in this event as it does with others, but acknowledged they are limited by staffing constraints.

"There's a bunch of smaller pieces that we do but absolutely I have to acknowledge that the vast majority of the organizing and work is done by the volunteers of that event," Risling said.

"We treat this event the same as we treat anyone else - we provide some assistance where we possibly can, but it is limited. We had bylaw that was there most of the day, and we did have somebody on site to help clean the washrooms and clean up the garbage.

"That's just part of our contribution that we would do for any event. The town did what it actually could given staff resourcing," he added.

“To say that there’s no leadership and no purpose I found that very hurtful,” McKortoff said, noting she was at the event as were other councillors.

“I just think it was totally unfair for JF to go off like this,” she added. “I’m not quite sure why this has happened. But it’s unfortunate because its left kind of a bad mark.”

She added that it was “quite disappointing” to hear the criticism, adding that a number of people had phoned town hall asking why the town didn’t support the event.

“My goodness we do!” the mayor said, adding that a $7,500 grant was given by the town.

This had, in fact, been clarified by Eileen McGinn - who was handling fundraising for the event - in a social media post following JF’s post.

“The town of Osoyoos did give us a $7,500 grant for the show as I applied and received it. Also our major corporate sponsor was the Osoyoos Credit Union and several others including, Osoyoos Legion, Rotary, Lordco, Nostalgia Winery and many more all contributed and supported this amazing event,” McGinn said.

Another aspect that is particularly galling for Launier is the economic benefit the event brings to town, easily the largest contributor of any event in Osoyoos.

Francine Launier earlier estimated the event brings in around $1.5 million, but JF says he pins the number at closer to $5 million or more because the original estimate is based on 2018 numbers.

By way of example the Times Chronicle understands that on the Saturday of the event (June 3) the Owl Pub had its single best Saturday ever.

He insists it's not about the money, "that's been misconstrued,” JF says. "Yes we're not super happy that other groups that do much less for the town get more money because it did cost us $60,000 to put the event on this weekend," adding that at the end of the day they could end up losing money.

"It's quite possible that we'll be short," he says, adding "it comes out of my pocket. That's just my donation to my town. I love this place." And while it may not be about the money, financial help is clearly important and local businesses are crucial in providing support for the event.

In speaking with the Launier clan it’s clear that the $7,500 the town kicked in, while perhaps helpful, was also stinging, given that some of the other events received town grants of higher amounts up to three times the size.

JF said he has no issue with grants that go to various events in town, like Music in the Park for instance, but these he points out entertain less than a 1,000 people, sometimes only a few hundred people. "That's super duper, but how come those events get more funding then the one that brought 15,000 people in for three or four days?" he asks.

As for the economic benefit Risling said he doesn’t know what the total figure would be, but “it absolutely was significant and we greatly appreciate it and I think that's one of the main reasons council decided to support this event,” he said.

JF also expressed unhappiness with the local accommodation providers who he says “jack up the prices” for the event yet don’t help support it. In the early days he says rooms were inexpensive because it was the shoulder season.

“Now they just crank up the prices because they can get away with it, and we filled up the town.” The Times Chronicle understands that a number of hotels in town including the major resorts did offer preferred rates for the event.

Despite the latent unhappiness the event went off flawlessly attracting a record 687 cars and heaps of happy, googly-eyed spectators.

In a special thank you to local residents JF said: “Thank you to every single local that brought kids, family, [and] hosted friends in their homes. You are the people we put the effort into serving.”

At the end of the day he says it’s a very real possibility that the event could move to Penticton but it’s not what he would like to see happen. “It’s one of the best things that happens in this town - the kids love it, families love it,” and businesses thrive on it, he said.

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