It ain’t easy being the Royal Conservatory of Music.
The venerable college of musical knowledge has been around since Standard Time, turning out, over the years, a star-spangled alumni that includes Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson and Diana Krall.
Recently, however, the RCM has run into financial turbulence; a pecuniary picture so dire that the Ontario provincial government is on the brink of stepping in to keep finances from going any further south.
Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has already issued two ominous reports about RCM’s outstanding loan from Infrastructure Ontario (shurely not $60-million?!—ed.), which has now been placed on the province’s watch list.
RCM supremo Peter Simon assured provincial inquisitors that fundraising begathons for the RCM’s new Telus Centre of Performance would cover a big chunk of the whopping debt.
But donations came more slowly, despite an RCM board of directors that is chock full of corporate swells like Charles Baillie, former supremo of the TD Bank; Phil Crawley, publisher of the Globe and Minion and Ian Ihnatowycz, the guy who sold his mutual fund company at the right time. These are “big picture” people not likely to be worried about a piddling $60-mil.
And looking at all the muy connected moneybags on the Royal Conservatory Council, it’s hard to fathom why they couldn’t hit their fundraising goals. Folks such as Yvonne Fecan of CTV fame, Leslie Dan, the generic pharma guy, and Stephen Smith, who just put his name on Queen’s School of Business.
Plus, still listed on the website as a member is one William Morneau, who might, in his new job as federal Minister of Finance, be trying to duck a few panicked phone calls.
Of course, if Conservatory management is serious about beating down their debt, they could try a New Year’s resolution to tighten their own belts, starting with the aforementioned Dr. Simon.
When the annual sunshine list of salaries of provincial agencies is published, the mercurial presidente gets headline treatment. His 2014 salary was listed at $457,000 (plus $38,000 in benefits). A total of seven Conservatory staff packed salaries over $200,000 at last count.
In recent years, the RCM take home has continued to tick upwards, while Ontario bureaucrats remained frozen. Simon’s salary, for example, has grown from $334,000 in 2009. (By comparison, the salary package for Ontario’s Deputy Minister for Culture, former Globe hack Drew Fagan, is currently less than half of Simon’s, at $241,500 with bennies).
Of course, you can’t blame Dr. Simon for cashing the paycheque his employer is willing to provide, although he does rather well compared to the salaries on offer at other institutions of higher larnin’.
Consider that he trousers nearly $500,000 in compensation as the RCM’s obergruppenfuhrer, with its annual budget of some $40-million.
Meanwhile, at Carleton University (annual budget: $400-million) President Roseann Reilly O’Runte receives a mere $400,000 in comp.
Doubtless it would help the RCM balance sheet if some of Simon’s inspirations actually made, er, money.
Who can forget, for example, his much-celebrated joint venture with the Carnegie Hall Conservatory Achievement Program to produce an RCM standardized curriculum, assessment and training program for distribution across the United States.
“We are ready for the next step to take our ideas to a global market,” an “elated” Simon told the Toronto Star in August 2012. Only a few days earlier, the federal government had announced a $7.5-million grant to support the RCM world domination enterprise.
Alas, less than a year later, Carnegie Hall had withdrawn from the deal to focus on orchestral work, leaving Simon and the RCM holding the bag, with millions of dollars already spent on learning materials and curricula for the American venture.
Paging Minister Morneau!