Striking public servants turned out in force to picket lines in Ottawa on Wednesday, parading round Parliament’s Centennial Flame with placards and flags.
Snow flurries, after a weekend of tropical sun in the capital, did not chill the upbeat atmosphere, as a specially curated strike playlist pumped out a defiant soundtrack including We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister and the Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again.
On Parliament Hill, hundreds marched in circles chanting “The people united will never be defeated!” within earshot of ministers inside.
Some public servants took their dogs to the picket lines, including Michelle Breard, a Health Canada employee who brought Lucy, her black-and-white poodle cross, on strike. Ms. Breard said members of the public-service union had “upheld everything while the world was falling apart” during the pandemic.
“Living in Ottawa, I know the public service gets a bit of a bad rap. I know that we get called lazy and things like that,” she said. “But I think it’s important to recognize who did the heavy lifting during a really hard time.”
Federal employees, including those working from home, were required by the Public Service Alliance of Canada to be on the picket line for four hours to collect their strike pay, swiping a special bar code to prove they had been there.
The strike started at 8 a.m. at several sites around Ottawa, including near the Tunney’s Pasture transit station, and at two sites near Parliament, but by 3:45 p.m. only a hard-core few remained.
Ashley Gowan, 29, who works for Health Canada, arrived at the Parliament picket line at 7:30 a.m. and sat in front of the Centennial Flame on a camping chair, wrapped in a big brown blanket, and wearing a hat, sunglasses, a mask and gloves. She is expecting a child and said a key issue was the cost of living.
For many on the picket line, the right to work from home was also a crunch issue. Some public servants said they had gone back to their office two days a week after working from home to find they no longer had a desk.
Patrick St-Georges, first national executive vice-president of the Agriculture Union, said he wants job security and language that clarifies a hybrid workplace.
“We’ve been able to do the work, so why not be able to do some of it from home and some from work?” he said.
NDP MP Daniel Blaikie, the party’s finance critic, was among a clutch of New Democrat MPs, including Leader Jagmeet Singh, to join the picket line on Wednesday morning.
Mr. Blaikie said it was reasonable for employers to expect productivity from their workers, but they should be paid properly, and bosses insisting people work in the office need to provide a desk and computer.
“These are the folks that carried us through the pandemic,” he said.
Ileana Liard, an administrative assistant in the Public Safety Department, wore a “support unity and solidarity” union vest over several layers of clothing and said going out to strike is a “last resort” after years of negotiations.
“It is very important for me to be here and defend my rights and to stand shoulder to shoulder with my peers,” she said.
Michaela Van Mourik, who works in Indigenous services, was carrying a big yellow sign she had made at her kitchen table reading “Fair Deal or No Deal.”
One striker marched in a Winnie the Pooh costume, with a sign that read, “Oh bother,” the phrase the bear uses when he finds himself in a sticky situation.