An estimated 20,000 protestors from the various trade unions rallied in front of Queen’s Park, home of Ontario’s Legislature, on Saturday, April 22, demanding budget fairness. The province-wide campaign called, “We are Ontario” brought together over 90 labour and community groups to oppose the budget cuts that they say target mainly the poor and middle-classes.
“We are here to fight for our rights regarding loosening our pension gratuity, regarding workload,” said John Sarpong a schoolteacher representing District 12, Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation.
“I’ve already banked over 200 sick days, which they have to pay me out and it’s like I am going to lose everything, after working all my life and getting ready to go on retirement.” The rally was held before Tuesday’s crucial vote on the provincial budget in the legislature.
After a meeting with Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath on Monday morning, Premier Dalton McGuinty made some compromises to the budget, thereby saving his minority government from falling. The changes will see a 2 per cent surtax on people earning more than $500,000 a year.
There will also be a 1 per cent increase to Ontario Works welfare benefits and Ontario Disability Support Plan. The Progressive Conservatives have said that they will not vote for the budget. “Coming from the islands I never got chicken pox until I started teaching in Canada and I was off for six days.
I understand the freeze. I do understand that - because of the economy, but it’s not just about the freeze and that’s what people need to understand. People think it’s all about the money, but it’s not just all about the money,” said Joann with Hamilton-Wentworth Elementary Teachers’ Local.
“It’s draconian. You would have thought in 2012 we would have been further ahead, in terms of being able to negotiate. But, they don’t want to talk. They want to impose. It’s all about who their friends are. Their friends are the corporations. Their friends are the big banks,” said Marie Clarke Walker, executive vice-president, Canadian Labour Congress.
Walker referred to the London, Ontario Caterpillar Incorporated which earlier this year locked out their workers and closed the plant.
Wambui Gaitho, a teacher at the Toronto District School Board, is a member of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. “From the time of Mike Harris, education has become such a politicised thing, that now, it’s all about the politics and it’s really no longer about the children who sit in front of us.
And all these reports that they put together and the reports are never by teachers, they’re always by some corporate person, like the Drummond Report,” said Gaitho who teaches in a school that has many minority and immigrant children. Gaitho explained that the parents of these children who would be impacted the most from these cuts are “too busy working to even try and figure out how to advocate for themselves.”
Janice Gairey, human rights director of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), said that in 2020 people of colour will be the majority. I’m here because of the public service cuts and how it’s going to affect racialised workers, particularly.
How does the education cuts affect our children who are already having problems in the school system - when you’re talking about the ratio of staffing?” Gairey also said that since Mike Harris who was Premier of Ontario in the mid to late nineties until 2002, took away the nucleus of how unions organise — the card certification system — it has been increasingly difficult for them to organise.
Jean Walters of CAW, Local 1106 in Kitchener, Waterloo is a registered practical nurse (RPN), who attended the rally to fight corporate greed. “People are losing their jobs, they’re closing a lot of plants, especially in Kitchener, Waterloo. We’ve lost quite a bit of plants.
People are hungry and we’re finding out that the food banks are filling up. Especially in our area in Kitchener, Waterloo, the Black population is growing up there, not like before and a lot of them are PSWs (Personal Support Workers).” Frank Mensah, a staff representative for Local 1000A, United Food and Commercial Workers, has a family with five children.
“(The cuts) to our members would be drastic because a lot of our members are minimum wage paid workers. The cost of living is going up and your pay is staying the same. It would impact me as well.”