Dozens of Sudburians will join thousands of protesters gathering in Toronto on Jan. 26 to protest outside of the Ontario Liberal Convention, where the province's new premier will be chosen.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are each sending a bus filled with local union members and supporters to the protest.
In total, 131 buses representing more than 100 community groups and labour unions are travelling from every corner of the province to participate in the event, according to a press release from the Ontario Federation of Labour.
They'll be gathering at Allan Gardens in Toronto for a rally at 1 p.m., followed by a march to the Ontario Liberal Convention at Maple Leaf Gardens.
“The Liberals have tried to pretend their only opposition is from school teachers, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan said, in the press release.
“Saturday's rally will be as broad and diverse as the province. The Liberals have betrayed their supporters and alienated voters by pursuing an aggressive austerity agenda of deep cuts to jobs and social programs that are vital to every community.
“They have shuttered our legislature and shelved our democratic rights. They have put the province in turmoil.”
James Clyke, president of OSSTF District 3 Rainbow, said his union's bus will be filled not only with his own members, but also with Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and Ontario English Catholic Teachers Federation members.
The teachers union members are unhappy about the province's recent decision to impose contracts through Bill 115, also known as the Putting Students First Act.
Clyke said he hopes his members are able to send a message to the province's premier-to-be that it's necessary to co-operate with teachers.
One of the frontrunners going into the convention, Kathleen Wynne, has indicated that she's in favour of “collectively bargained agreements rather than imposing them,” he said.
Clyke said he's not sure where the other frontrunner, Sandra Pupatello, stands on the issue.
“We need to have a premier that is willing to do whatever they can to loosen up this impasse and sit down with us in some meaningful way with regard to collective bargaining again.”
As there will be up to 10,000 people at the protest, those at the leadership convention won't be able to ignore it, Clyke said.
Valerie Trudeau, president of the Sudbury District CUPE Council, said her union's bus will be filled with members of various local unions, as well as members of the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty.
You certainly don't think they could ignore it, but you never can tell with politicians...
Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty member
From CUPE's perspective, it's important to protest at the Liberal leadership convention because public sector workers' bargaining rights are under attack, she said.
Before the legislature was prorogued last fall, the government was talking about introducing the Protecting Public Services Act, which would freeze wages for all public sector workers.
“It's not that the workers in the public sector actually make a lot of money,” Trudeau said.
“That's a misconception by a lot of people. So we have to let them know that we're not going to accept this.
“It's a good time with the Liberal leadership convention to let the Liberals know that the people of Ontario are not going to keep taking this, that we're not their punching bag.”
Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty member Gary Kinsman said 10 members of the group are heading to Toronto for the protest, where they will meet up with an Ontario Coalition Against Poverty march at 12 p.m. The anti-poverty activists will then meet up with the Ontario Federation of Labour protest at 1 p.m.
“What the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty is most concerned about is the cuts to people on social assistance, and the difficulty that it has created for people living in poverty,” Kinsman said.
“We've been especially focused on the Community Start-up and Maintenance Benefit, but we're also really concerned about the attack on workers' right, the attack on the rights of teachers, the attack on people in the public sector, and the whole general agenda of trying to wear down and weaken the forms of social spending and social protection that people have relied on in the province.”
Like Clyke, Kinsman said those at the Liberal convention won't be able to ignore the protest.
“It will be very, very large, and it will be going right by Maple Leaf Gardens, which is where they're meeting,” he said.
“You certainly don't think they could ignore it, but you never can tell with politicians sometimes not wanting to listen to what's going on in the streets and what's going on among the public more generally.”