As Liberal Party delegates chose their new leader, and Ontario's new premier, inside, dozens of Sudburians were among the thousands protesting outside the Ontario Liberal Convention at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on Jan. 26.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) each sent a bus filled with local union members and supporters to the event.
According to media reports, Toronto police estimated there were 15,000 people at the protest, which was organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour. Organizers put the crowd at 30,000.
“I thought it was excellent, to tell you the truth,” Sudbury District CUPE Council president Valerie Trudeau said. “It was energizing. I think it brought to light a lot of issues.”
CUPE was at the protest to speak out against a piece of legislation the province had planned to introduce last fall — the Protecting Public Services Act. The act would freeze wages for all public sector workers.
Several members of the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty were among those on the CUPE bus to Toronto. The group met up with an Ontario Coalition Against Poverty march, which then fed the Ontario Federation of Labour protest.
They were there to protest against cuts to social assistance, especially the Community Maintenance and Start-Up Benefit.
“It was really quite dynamic,” Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty member Clarissa Lassaline said.
She said the protesters were largely union members, but there were contingents from a wide variety of organizations, including fellow anti-poverty protesters, Idle No More organizers and environmental groups.
A large percentage of the protesters were teachers' union members unhappy about the province's recent decision to impose contracts on them.
James Clyke, president of OSSTF District 3 Rainbow, said his union's bus was filled not only with his own members, but also with Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and Ontario English Catholic Teachers Federation members.
He said the protest was “very impressive,” with many noting that they haven't seen a rally of that size “since the Mike Harris days.”
Clyke said he hopes the protest succeeded in making an impression on Wynne.
He said the new premier has said she's willing to “build bridges” with the teachers, although she's not planning on “ripping up any of the imposed working conditions.”