An Ontario labour leader said a general strike could be on the horizon if the provincial government doesn’t change its policies, a warning issued as Progressive Conservatives gathered for a convention Saturday.
Ontario Federation of Labour President Patty Coates told a crowd of about 1,000 teachers, health-care workers and autism advocates gathered outside a convention centre in Niagara Falls that Premier Doug Ford has to “change course” over the next two years before the 2022 provincial election.
“They need to have policies that are good for people in Ontario,” Ms. Coates told the audience, many holding handmade signs denouncing Mr. Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “If Conservatives don’t listen to us ... we will shut this province down.”
Ms. Coates called for the repeal of Bill 124, which caps public-sector salary increases at 1 per cent, a major point of contention in stalled education talks with four teachers’ unions. Ms. Coates later told reporters a general strike – which would involve workers from a variety of unionized sectors – could occur if the government moves towards privatizing key services such as health care or education.
She pointed to the proposal for two mandatory online classes for high school classes as potential example of privatization.
The PC government did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the protest.
About 1,000 PC members are said to be attending the mostly closed-door policy conference, which will feature a speech from Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Saturday night. The Premier’s speech, which will be open to the media, is expected to be a rallying call to the party’s base and looking toward the 2022 election.
One protester held a vulgar sign directed at anti-abortion MPP Sam Oosterhoff. When informed of the sign, Ms. Coates told reporters she’s “not going to comment on what people say or their own personal views,” but added the target of the demonstration is the government’s policies and people should be respectful.
Patty Krawec, an Indigenous woman and former social worker who addressed the protest, said she won’t apologize for being angry at the government.
“They’re standing against teachers, and nurses, and health-care workers, and basically anybody who isn’t them,” she said. “Nothing I’m going to say is going to change their mind.”
NDP MPP Wayne Gates, who represents Niagara Falls, criticized the government’s recent licence plate snafu as he addressed the crowd. The government was on the defensive last week after the province’s recently redesigned blue licence plates were found to be difficult to read at night and for certain cameras. The government, which blamed manufacturer 3M for the problem, has said that improved plates will roll out in the next three weeks.
“The education minister and the Ford government, they can’t even make licence plates. And they want to run the education system,” Mr. Gates said. “That make sense to anybody?”
Concerns of Indigenous people were also prominent at the protest.
Crystal Sinclair, who is Cree, carried a sign in solidarity with the Wet’suwe’ten hereditary chiefs in British Columbia who oppose the Coastal GasLink project and the Mohawks in Tyendinaga, the site of an ongoing rail blockade near Belleville, Ont.
Ms. Sinclair, a mental health and addictions worker who is part of Idle No More Toronto, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – who on Friday called for an immediate end to rail blockades – is avoiding the reality of an Indigenous awakening happening across the country.
“There are people rising across this nation in support of Indigenous rights,” she said.
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