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Election inflates balloon fears in preparation for Surrey Vaisakhi parade

None of the political parties will be floating any trial balloons at this campaign stop.

Surrey’s annual Vaisakhi parade, happening this Saturday, regularly draws more than 300,000 spectators and participants to celebrate the Punjabi festival marking the birth of the Sikh faith.

Surrey businesses and individuals give out free food and many have handed-out helium balloons at past parades. Nothing goes with people and parades like balloons. Put people, parades and politicians together, as parade organizers found out during the 2015 federal election year, and the balloons can get way out-of-hand.

“YVR phoned me,” parade publicist Laura Ballance said of the 2015 parade. “They estimated 100,000 balloons in the air.”

The Surrey parade route is under a major flight path for Vancouver airport, that day clustered with errant helium balloons.

“I remember looking up when I got the phone call, and it looked like a giant rainbow above our event,” Ballance said.

The annual Vaisakhi parade in Surrey, BC attracted more than an estimated 200,000 people Saturday, April 23, 2016.

The following year, parade organizers requested that participants not hand out helium balloons, a request that was mostly honoured. This year, they reiterated that message, and while Ballance didn’t want to say so, it’s clear they worried that another looming election could bring out balloon-toting politicians of all stripes.

“This is a very family oriented event, lots of children, what a great way to celebrate the day by handing out helium balloons,” Ballance said. “I had never thought of (the hazard) until I got the call that day.”

Ballance noted, as well, that the parade route is two kilometres from the helipad at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

“I remember there were thousands of balloons,” said Nav Canada spokesman Ron Singer. “They’re an obstruction, the parade is right on the flight path.”

A Liberal spokesman said the party had no helium balloons at last year’s parade in Surrey, and the no-balloons policy will hold for Saturday’s event. The New Democrats and Greens also said they would comply.

More information about the event, including the parade route, is at surreyvaisakhiparade.com.

gschaefer@postmedia.com

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