As Ontario Liberals gathered inside Maple Leaf Gardens to select a new leader, thousands of union members assembled outside for a massive rally protesting an erosion of labour rights under the current Liberal government.

The rally, which was organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour, began at Allan Gardens at noon.

At around 1:50 p.m., the protesters began their march to Maple Leaf Gardens where a successor to Premier Dalton McGuinty is being chosen.

The march took protesters west along Gerrard Street before turning north at Yonge Street and east on Carlton Street.

Rolling road closures were in effect as a result.

“The voices of all these people, who represent hundreds of thousands across Ontario, cannot be ignored,” CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn told CP24 as the march began. “We will not forget what the Liberal party has done by stripping people of their rights.”

Police estimated 15,000 people were taking part in the protest, including representatives from more than 100 unions and community organizations. An estimated 8,000 protesters surrounded Maple Leaf Gardens, police said.

“It will be the largest demonstration that the Liberals have faced in their eight years in office,” OFL President Sid Ryan told CP24 Saturday morning. “We have close to a couple hundred buses coming in from all over and I would imagine we will have tens of thousands of people from just the GTA alone. Church Street right down to Yonge Street (on Carlton) will be packed solid.”

Police said the demonstration was peaceful and by 4 p.m., most of the protesters had dispersed.

The Liberal government has been under attack by organized labour since imposing collective agreements on 126,000 teachers and education workers without one earlier this month.

Speaking with CP24, Ryan said the removal of collective bargaining rights is only one part of what he considers a massive problem.

“If I had to wrap it up in a sentence I would say it is essentially all about the austerity program that’s been introduced. It gave way to Bill 115, but also people living in social housing are being hurt, community programs are being cut and it is all because we are giving corporate tax cuts away,” he said. “We want to see a fairer way of running this province and we think the rich and the corporations have to pony up a little bit and start paying their share.”

Delegates get rough reception

Though the rally didn’t officially begin until 9 a.m. that didn’t stop hundreds of protesters from making sure Liberal leadership candidates and delegates got a piece of their mind early Saturday morning.

The protesters gathered outside Maple Leaf Gardens beginning at 7 a.m. and were heard chanting “shame, shame, shame” as candidates Gerard Kennedy and Harinder Takhar arrived.

One lane of traffic on Carlton Street had to be closed to accommodate the protesters.

“What we are trying to say is that the Liberals no longer represent the majority of people in Ontario,” Ontario Public Service Employees Union executive board member Chris Cormier told CP24 Saturday morning. “Their record on public services is abysmal, our health care services are not being funded the way that they claim and as far as education goes the day that they took away collective bargaining rights is the day they took away a fundamental human right from Ontarians.”

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