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Ontario Liberals to host 'People's Picnic' at Queen's Park on Canada Day

Last Updated Jun 30, 2019 at 4:37 pm EDT

A man waves a flag during a Canada Day parade. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

The Ontario Liberal Party will host a Canada Day picnic celebration on the grounds of the provincial legislature on Monday after the Progressive Conservative government cancelled the 52-year-old event.

The so-called “People’s Picnic,” spearheaded by Toronto MPP Mitzie Hunter, will take place at Queen’s Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Nobody cancels Canada Day,” Hunter said. “It’s a tradition that’s been around for 52 years. I’ve talked to people who attended as children, who are now bringing their children to this event. Why would you take that away when it has meaning for people in terms of their national pride, their national unity and being Canadian?”

The Ford government faced backlash last week after cancelling the Queen’s Park Canada Day celebration to cut costs, citing declining attendance.

The event had been running since 1967, and traditionally featured 21-gun military gun salutes, musicians and other forms of entertainment.

Instead, the Tories opted for a less expensive alternative, offering free Canada Day admission for the first 500 visitors at certain attractions in the Greater Toronto Area, including the Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Science Centre, the Cinesphere in Toronto and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ont.

Earlier this week, Ford officials said it costed between $300,000 to $400,000 or more to run the traditional Canada Day party at the legislature. They estimated $80,000 for their new alternative.

Following the cancellation, Hunter said she began looking into the availability of the Queen’s Park space to get permission to use it.

“You can scale it back, you can change it, you can make it better, more attractive for people to come out if you’re worried about costs, but you don’t cancel it,” Hunter said of the traditional celebration.

She admitted the “People’s Picnic” will be a “scaled back version” of the original Canada Day event, as the party had less than two weeks to prepare, but that anything is better than nothing.

This year’s celebration will be a “good old-fashioned family picnic,” said Hunter. “We’re inviting people to bring a blanket, a cooler, of course sunscreen and a hat and just come out and enjoy the openness of the space.”

The announcement to cancel the event came shortly after Doug Ford was met with a chorus of boo’s during the Raptors victory rally Jun. 17, the most recent of three consecutive events where the Ontario premier was heckled on stage.

Kayla Iafelice, a spokeswoman for Ford, said the government was helping “hard-working families celebrate” by offering free admission to various attractions.

“Instead of hosting a single event at Queen’s Park, we are providing free admission for thousands of people to Canada Day events across the province,” she said.

She did not respond to questions about whether the premier was slated to appear at a Canada Day event prior to the cancellation.

In a statement, Hunter called cancelling the event a “disservice,” adding the Liberal version will feature free ice cream, face-painting and the MC will be Katie Tsuyuki, an Olympic snowboarder.