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Calgary mayor defends Canada Day programming as a petition for fireworks return grows

The City of Calgary will have a host of programming available for families on Canada Day.

Calgary’s mayor said citizens will be happy with what the city’s arts and culture team has put together for Canada Day, even without the higher-altitude fireworks.

Though there will still be fireworks of sorts, she said.

The mayor’s response comes as Common Sense Calgary has an electronic petition that’s garnered thousands of signatures, and a Calgary MP has weighed in on the debate.

Last week, the City of Calgary said that there would be no higher altitude fireworks at this year’s Canada Day events, instead opting for low-level pyrotechnics on the mainstage at Fort Calgary.

They said it came after consultation with different groups and was influenced by the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Immigration Act and actions for Truth and Reconciliation.  There were also citizen considerations for noise and traffic along with protections for wildlife and bird nesting in the area.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Tuesday that there will be a lot of different programming happening around the city on Canada Day.

“I think it’s an important decision by the arts and culture team to focus on programming the day to make sure that people have a destination to go to for Canada Day,” she said.

“That is the best way to celebrate as a community.”

The mayor also said that shortly after the conclusion of Canada Day the Calgary Stampede starts kicking up some dust, finishing every day with a high-altitude fireworks show.

The mayor encouraged Calgarians to learn more about the programming that is set up for the day.

Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean said he supports reinstating the fireworks. He said his email inbox has been “flooded” with emails from people not happy with the decision.

“I think there should have been a more fulsome engagement,” McLean said.

“I think it was poorly thought out and not very well conveyed to Calgarians.”

Petition expands limit to 10,000

Common Sense Calgary, a local municipal advocacy group, said more than 5,000 people have already signed a petition calling for the return of fireworks to the Canada Day conclusion.

“Calgarians want to celebrate Canada Day and enjoy the fireworks with their families. Council needs to rein in the City staff and actually represent their constituents for once,” said Common Sense Calgary Executive Director, Kristy Koehler, in a prepared media release.

The signature goal for the petition has now been extended to 10,000.

The issue has also drawn the attention of Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner. She posted to social media on Tuesday saying that Canada Day doesn’t have to be a one-or-the-other type of celebration.

“Celebrating the miracle that is Canada today – a welcoming, democratic, pluralism – doesn’t mean that we can’t also acknowledge and address reconciliation and the longstanding impacts of colonialism and racism,” Rempel Garner’s post read.

“When our leaders make this choice a binary one, that as a people we can only do one at the expense of the other, we further divide our country instead of solving its problems. Suggesting that Canada Day shouldn’t be a day for any celebration does just that, and I won’t allow my community to be pushed into that corner.”

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said that on the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which forced Chinese immigrants to pay a $500 entrance duty, won’t be celebrated on July 1. That Act passed into law on July 1, 1923, then called Dominion Day.

“We are not celebrating that whatsoever,” he said.

“What we are doing are observing both the trauma of the Immigration Act but also the rise of the Chinese community, the contributions that were made to Calgary over the last 100 years as well. So, with or without fireworks, we will do an observance.”

When asked how this should be explained to the tens of thousands of Calgarians who do like to celebrate Canada Day with fireworks, Wong said there are many different ways to celebrate. He said that fireworks were first created by the Chinese, and they’ve been used for celebrate.

“The choice, again, was not a choice by the Chinese community, but it’s one that the Chinese community is respecting,” he said.

Thoughtful work went into different Canada Day activities

Councillors asked about the decision-making on the fireworks plans during City Manager David Duckworth’s Q1 report. He said that a lot of time, attention and effort went into the administration decision. He turned the matter over to GM Katie Black for a fuller response.

City of Calgary Community Services GM Katie Black said that they took into consideration the need to gather for a celebration. That’s why they have a slate of events planned for the Fort Calgary area. The other was sensitivity to the Chinese Immigration Act and commitment to Truth and Reconciliation.

“So, not everyone sees fireworks as the way to mark a significant event. So, we’re trying to stay mindful of that,” she said.

GM Black also reiterated that shortly thereafter Calgarians would be able to enjoy Calgary Stampede fireworks.

“To be clear, what we’re doing this year isn’t so much a cancellation as a trying something different,” she said.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said that while it was described as an operational decision, the reasons for doing it are political. She said she has more than 120 emails in her inbox that she has to respond to on this matter.

“I’m just really perplexed because it’s an operational decision on political, actual reasons,” Coun. Sharp said.

“I really hope we have a lesson learned here on how we approach the situation, and how some of us had to deal with it.”

City administration did say in their initial communication about the Canada Day changes that they would consult with Calgarians after this year’s events and gauge how next to move forward.