Carrying effigies of Conservative cabinet ministers and shouting pro-labour slogans, hundreds of Canadians marked May Day by joining an Ottawa rally to demand that Prime Minister Stephen Harper rethink his multibillion dollar budget cuts.
Shouts of “Stop the cuts” and “The people united will never be defeated” rang out across downtown Ottawa from the mouths of civil servants, union leaders, students and sympathetic Canadians.
The rally is one of many being held across the world to mark International Workers Day and comes a day after a third-wave of federal public servants received notices that their jobs could be affected by Tory budget cuts.
“I’m surplused. I’m trying to find job and I have no support,” said Danielle, a Canada Border Services employee who just got a notice she will lose her job after 20 years of service. She did not want to disclose her last name for fear it would impact her chances of finding another federal job.
The Conservatives pledged to cut 19,200 federal jobs as part of the $5.2 billion cuts included in the March budget. So far over 12,000 people have received notices that their jobs could be included in that number.
While Danielle regularly attends May Day marches, she said losing her job has given this day a new gravity.
“It is important that everyone sticks together and tell Mr. Harper this is affecting not only me, everyone is affected,” she said. “If we lose our job, it means (Canadians) will lose their jobs because we won’t be able to spend money.”
As protesters like Danielle chanted in the crowd, rappers, poets, activists and union leaders took to the microphone to condemn the cuts.
“We’re not going to take this sitting down,” Public Service Alliance of Canada national president John Gordon told the crowd. “We’re going to be in every community, we’re going to be in your face every single day because communities are losing services.”
That message resonated with Jenni Gullen who, although not a public servant herself, came out to show her support.
Gullen said her family is relatively affluent and benefits from many of the polices of the Harper government such as income-splitting.
But she worries about the costs others are paying for those policies.
“Are we able to buy an extra car, but at the cost of the National Aboriginal Health Organization,” she said. “At the cost of increasing individual wealth for a few, you get decreased quality of life for the many.”
Treasury Board President Tony Clement said he was disappointed in PSAC for organizing the day of action.
“We have a fair and reasonable and sustainable plan to make sure that government spends within its means and we are executing that plan,” he said. “We think a reduction of four per cent of public sector numbers in the public service is fair and reasonable and moderate.”
Frustration went beyond the federal government’s most recent cuts to the choices Harper has made since winning a majority government last May; choices like rolling back the OAS eligibility age, curtailing health-care spending, and overhauling the environmental assessment program.
“Canadians are waking up to see there were a lot of lies in the Conservatives approach to re-election,” said Mike Arbuckle, a lab technician for the Government of the Northwest Territories. “Their platform is not being implemented.”
Arbuckle was in Ottawa for PSAC’s national conference and said he thinks Canadians are finally waking up to see that many of the policies pursued by the federal government are going to hurt them.”
Michel Turcot, a federal civil servant, said he hopes Canadians will start to add their voice to those of Tuesday’s protesters and to tell the government they are going too far.
“They have a majority, but someone put them there,” he said.
Also in the crowd were Quebec students who have been protesting provincial tuition hikes. The students asked the others to join with them and “rise up against austerity.”
“Please stand up and they will know in the future to fear us,” a speaker shouted into a cheering crowd.
The students later marched down to a Quebec provincial office in Ottawa and started banging on windows.
With a file from The Canadian Press