For 12 years, MPP Michael Prue has waved a flag in the Beach’s Easter parade – not NDP orange, but a lake blue one with a silhouette of the Leuty Lifeguard Station.
But Prue’s Beach flag won’t fly on Sunday.
Organizers at the Toronto Beaches Lions Club have banned all politicians from the 48 year-old parade, which normally includes the local city councillor and members of parliament.
The Lions Club emailed the three Beaches-East York politicians about the ban on March 28, two days after a regular community police liaison committee meeting where one Lion suggested police at 55 Division could help enforce it.
“We have no problem with them coming in and walking the parade and wishing everyone a happy Easter,” says Keith Begley, the Lions’ parade director. “But as soon as they start bringing the political side in, that’s where the issue comes up.”
Begley said the Lions’ decision has nothing to do with the controversies surrounding Mayor Rob Ford, who started walking in the parade after he was elected in 2010.
Ford was uninvited from the Toronto Santa Claus Parade last Christmas after he admitted to using crack cocaine. He also upset some parents at previous Easter parades by throwing chocolate eggs at young children rather than handing them out, contrary to instructions from organizers.
But Begley said the problem goes beyond any one politician.
Parade rules forbid any partisan colours, political signs or handouts, he said, but local politicians keep breaking those rules and the Lions no longer have enough people to manage them.
“If we see a whole bunch of, let’s say, red shirts, and Liberal colours, are we associated with them?” he said.
“We can’t be, as an organization.”
Begley said he had to follow those same rules himself when he ran for the local city council seat in 2010.
He couldn’t walk in that parade, he said, since the Lions have only ever allowed elected officials, not candidates, to join.
Instead, Begley volunteered at that parade as a marshall, his usual role.
Asked about photos on his 2010 campaign website that show him as a marshall and handing out Easter eggs, Begley said they are examples of his volunteer work.
“That was just my activity in the community,” he said. “That’s how a lot of people know me, through the Lions”
Michael Prue said in his 12 years, the Lions have never given clear rules for the parade.
“There were never any written rules – we asked for them a couple of times,” he said.
“We obeyed those rules as they were made on the spot.”
Prue remembers one Easter when some of the people helping him hand out chocolate eggs wore orange T-shirts, and those helping the MP at the time, Liberal Maria Minna, wore red ones with her name on the front.
The Lions asked them all to change or to flip their shirts inside-out.
“That caused a bit of kerfuffle, but we didn’t know in advance, and when we were asked to do it, we did it,” he said.
A similar incident happened two years ago when he and current MP Matthew Kellway were asked not to use any orange bags to pass out candy.
Besides the Easter parade, Prue usually joins two Greek parades on the Danforth, a Canada Day parade, and the local Santa Claus parade on Kingston Road.
“We never had any problem with them because they are more clear on what they expect,” he said.
Nancy Culver handles special events for Community Centre 55, which runs the local Santa parade.
Like the Lions, Culver said CC55 is wary of anyone using a parade to push their agenda.
But so long as they aren’t candidates, Culver said CC55 invites and expects all three Beach politicians to be there.
So far, she said they have all complied with the Santa parade rules, including the one banning handouts.
Organizers of the Toronto St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Pride Toronto said they invite both elected politicians and candidates.
“We don’t want any controversy, nobody does,” said Alan Louthe, chair of the all-volunteer St. Patrick’s Day parade.
“But I don’t believe we’ve ever banned anybody or said ‘No, not them.’”
Prue, Kellway, and local city councillor Mary Margaret-McMahon each told Beach Metro News they are surprised and disappointed not to be in this year’s parade.
“For us, it’s kind of like everyone’s out of hibernation – you see your neighbours and it’s a family day,” said McMahon, who usually rides in the parade on a daffodil-covered bike with kids who hand out vegetable seeds.
“It’s always been very much a family event for me,” said Kellway, who usually gives out chocolate eggs with his wife and children, while his mother and father-in-law drive the egg-supply van behind them.
“At this stage, I have no idea why they did it,” said Prue, who has since been invited to a Sunday lamb dinner for Greek Easter, plus a Bangladeshi New Year celebration at Crescent Town that same afternoon.
Although he has already cancelled his candy orders, Prue said if the ban were lifted he would gladly join again.
“It would just be me with a flag, but I’d still come,” he said, laughing.
The Toronto Beaches Lions Club Easter Parade starts at 2 p.m. at Munro Park Avenue and runs west along Queen Street to Woodbine Avenue. It is expected to last two hours and draw some 40,000 spectators.