By Jenny Yuen ,Toronto Sun
TORONTO - They’ve had enough of politicians reigning on their parade.
Earlier this week, Toronto Beaches Lions Club publicly announced it was barring elected officials — including mayoral candidates — from marching in its Easter Parade on April 20.
The Lions said they want to provide families and the community with a “political-free zone.”
“We’ve just found it too hard to manage because they don’t adhere to our rules,” said Easter parade director Keith Begley.
“They raise their colours and signs when we ask them not to. It’s a courtesy that we invite them in and, as it’s gone on, it’s gotten too hard to manage them and we don’t have the manpower to do it.”
With municipal elections just six months away, mayoral candidates are scrambling to make their mark any way they can.
The Easter Parade in the Beach draws up to 50,000 people.
Last year, Mayor Rob Ford was seen tossing Easter candies at children during the parade. The Lions Club’s decision this week has left Ford with 10,000 chocolate eggs he intended to pass out at the parade.
“What can you do?” Ford said after wheeling out a skid of chocolates from his office. “If they don’t want us there, they don’t want us there. I respect their decision.”
This isn’t the first time controversy has surrounded Toronto parades.
In 2007, former councillor Sandra Bussin rented a bunny costume for the Beaches Easter Parade, which she filed as a $205 office expense. Constituents were hopping mad when they found out about the claim on the taxpayer’s dime.
In November, Ford was asked not to attend the Santa Claus Parade by event co-chairman Ron Barbaro. The snub came the day city council was debating a motion ordering Ford to apologize for misleading Toronto residents about smoking crack cocaine.
“Due to recent events in the mayor’s life, there was a decision made that he would not walk the parade, but would be a spectator watching the parade with his family,” Barbaro wrote to Ford’s then-chief of staff, Earl Provost, at the time.
“However, last night the mayor announced that he has changed his mind and will now walk ahead of the parade,” Barbaro wrote. ”We are appealing to the mayor, as a parent, to reconsider this decision. We are asking him to go back to the original decision.”
Instead, Ford marched in the Santa Claus parade on his home turf of Etobicoke a month later.
Toronto psychiatrist Irvin Wolkoff said while parades historically have been political (Northern Ireland has the Drumcree Conflict where there have been violent clashes between locals and the Orange Order during parades since 1873), Canadians are seeing more parades masked with messages from political parties.
“People are a lot more cynical and suspicious about government than they ever were before and all you need to ice that cake is see the fuss and bother caused by certain politicians attending or refusing to attend parades,” Wolkoff said.
“I think the Lions Club is very smart. Absolutely, we’ve become more politicized,” he added. “Politicians aren’t stupid. Being an elected official does not mean an opportunity to serve, but an opportunity to score points and incur favours.”
And then, there’s the Pride Parade – a whole big ball of controversy in itself.
June Rowlands was the last Toronto mayor not to march in the gay and lesbian rights parade and Barbara Hall was the first in 1995. Since then, it’s been tradition for the head of council to represent the city in the event (even “Bad Boy” mayor Mel Lastman warmed up to the idea of marching in 1998) — until 2011 when Rob Ford refused to participate, citing the bash overlapped with his family cottage weekend.
In February, Ford announced he would not be attending the Pride Parade this year or any other year. His brother Councillor Doug Ford insisted the mayor is not homophobic.
“I’m not going to go to (the) Pride Parade,” the mayor said at the time. “I’ve never gone to a Pride Parade, so I’m not going to change the way I am.”
Not all controversy at Pride has revolved around mayors, though.
In 2010, there was controversy over Pride Toronto’s decision to allow the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid to participate. Initially, Pride Toronto agreed not to allow the phrase “Israeli Apartheid” as part of a deal with the city, which had suggested funding could be yanked if the group was allowed to march. However, the organization subsequently reversed its decision after it received funds from the city.
The city recently came under fire for spending $1,280 on Mardi Gras beads for councillors to toss at a parade.
Toronto District School Board trustees also faced backlash last month after asking Pride Toronto to enforce public nudity laws at this year’s event.
During last April’s Khalsa Day parade at Nathan Phillips Square, leaders from the NDP, Liberals, PCs and Green Party showed up donning the Sikh traditional colour of orange. Each party had five minutes at the podium to promote the event — and their party’s mottos.
Andre Cote, programs and research manager at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, said while he can see people getting frustrated from “a bunch of politicians and candidates who are sort of using these events as opportunities for their own profile,” there is a flip side.
“In many ways, it can also be seen as a good thing,” Cote explained. “It’s an opportunity for these politicians to come out and meet different groups in constituencies and it’s politics – so there might be a bit of a self-interest aspect to it, but it’s also a neat opportunity to meet some groups they might not normally be as exposed to and that might provide them with a better rounded sense of where the public’s at and the views of these different groups.”
Regarding the Easter Parade ban, Beaches-East York councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon said she’s disappointed about the Lions Club decision but will respect it.
“I’m usually on my bike, I have kids who walk with me and we’re handing out vegetable seeds,” McMahon said. “I would like to think I was always behaved in the parade. I can only account with my own behaviour. It’d be interesting to do a survey amongst Torontonians what they expect — politicians being there, or they might just prefer listening to music and seeing the floats.”
Wolkoff takes a harsher view.
“Honest to goodness, we really need to see our politicians spanked more often publicly,” he said. “And sometimes, that spanking should be 100 strokes of the lash.”