NIAGARA FALLS – A crowd of labour activists demonstrated outside of the Ontario Progressive Conservative convention Saturday, demanding the government stop cuts to key public services like education and health care.
Protesters waving flags and placards filled the streets outside of a convention centre in Niagara Falls where the Tory policy gathering is taking place to begin development of Premier Doug Ford’s re-election platform.
The Ontario Federation of Labour organized the event and that group’s president said activists must fight to save public services.
“This is their policy conference and we want them to know they need to change course,” Patty Coates said. “They need to have policies that are good for people in Ontario. … We’re going to stand together against these cuts.”
The protest came a day after thousands of teachers marched around the Ontario legislature to protest stalled contract talks with the government.
The joint walkout by all four major teachers’ unions marked the first time since 1997 that educators from all the labour groups were on strike on the same day.
The teachers’ unions have said they are pushing back against government attempts to increase class sizes and introduce mandatory online learning courses.
The government has said the key issue in bargaining is compensation, as they offer educators a one per cent raise while the unions ask for a cost of living adjustment closer to two per cent.
The leaders of three teachers’ unions attended the rally on Saturday, with the president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario urging the crowd to stand with educators.
“They’re attacking us,” Sam Hammond said. “But my friends, make no mistake, you’re next. This is a much bigger fight.”
NDP legislator Wayne Gates, who represents the riding which includes Niagara Falls, slammed the government for making cuts to the province’s classrooms.
“We have the best public education system in the world,” he said. “Why the hell would you want to tear that down?”
Earlier this week, Government House Leader Paul Calandra said because of the policy platform work at the event, most of the convention is closed to the public and media. The exception will be a keynote speech from Premier Doug Ford on Saturday night.
“It’s about bringing people into the room, debating and discussing the policies that are not only important to our grassroots but are the policies that will ultimately find their way into the next election campaign,” Calandra said. “A measure of internal caution is always required.”