Thousands descend on Queen’s Park to protest McGuinty budget

TheStar.com – news
Published On Sat Apr 21 2012.   Niamh Scallan, Staff Reporter

More than 15,000 protesters from labour unions and community organizations across the province rallied outside Ontario’s Legislature Saturday afternoon to vent their fury over the minority Liberal government’s austerity-focused budget.

“We’re sending a signal to Dalton McGuinty that the budget he’s introduced is grossly unfair,” said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, the group responsible for organizing the “Day of Action” event.

A sea of flag-toting protesters arrived by the busload early in the afternoon to demonstrate against the proposed budget, a belt-tightening fiscal blueprint that calls for wage freezes for more than a million public servants and pension plan changes as a way to rein in the province’s multi-billion-dollar deficit.

Gathered on the grassy stretch facing the Legislature, the group of public servants and other labour supporters jived to a Bob Marley cover band as union and community group leaders prepared to take the stage for speeches, sporadic cries of “Shame, shame on McGuinty!” filling the air.

“McGuinty has gone too far. We need to support the public sector,” said Don Guest, a Brantford-based millwright and United Steel Workers member.

“They need to step back. Touching pensions, it’s just not the right way to go,” added Cephas Kotei, a Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board employee and president of CUPE Local 1483.

The rally then shifted from the Legislature to the streets as the throng of protesters marched toward Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood. A handful of cement trucks, parked near a construction site on Bay St., honked their horns as protesters marched by, eliciting cheers from the crowd.

The protest came just three days before a crucial budget vote that, if defeated, could see Ontarians headed back to the polls for the second time in six months. The Progressive Conservatives under leader Tim Hudak have said the proposed budget fails to create jobs and control spending, and have vowed to vote against it.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, one of more than a dozen speakers at Saturday’s event, called the proposed budget “profoundly flawed” and told to the crowd she planned to continue to press McGuinty for further concessions prior to Tuesday’s vote.

“When this budget was introduced, we saw a lot of things that we certainly did not like. This budget left workers behind. It left people who are looking for work behind,” she said, bystanders chanting “Vote it down! Vote it down” as she left the stage.

The New Democrat leader later told reporters she hoped to avoid another election, but said her party still had a number of unmet concerns.

Horwath said she was “pleased” with McGuinty’s announcement of a number of budget-related concessions on Friday, including the plan to put $275 million toward child care and the disabled. But her party hoped for further compromises, including a wealth surtax of two percentage points on incomes above $500,000, she said.

With hours before Tuesday’s vote dwindling, Horwath said she planned to meet with McGuinty on Sunday to review her party’s concerns.

“I’ve been very, very careful not to have a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude in this process,” she said. “All we want to see is a little bit of fairness. The very least we can ask for is that the very top earners in Ontario put in a little bit more when times are tough.”

“Corporations should be paying their fair share,” added Ryan, noting he hoped Horwath would “stick to her guns” in the coming days.

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