Thousands rally against budget in Toronto
Chris Fox, cp24.com
Published Saturday, April 21, 2012 5:51PM EDT
Thousands of protesters gathered on the front lawn of the Ontario legislature before marching to Yorkville to protest a provincial budget they said "unfairly targets the middle class" Saturday afternoon.
The rally, which was organized by 50 unions and 86 community groups, was held in advance of a Tuesday vote on the proposed budget, where Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government will need at least two opposition votes to survive.
Rolling road closures were in effect as the protesters marched north on Queen's Park Crescent, East on Wellesley Street and North on Bay Street before returning to Queen's Park along Bloor Street.
The march lasted about 60 minutes, finishing at around 5:30 p.m.
"This budget targets a lot of people in the middle class and those who are disadvantaged, and corporations are getting away scot-free," Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Labour Federation told CP24. "We just want the premier to ask these folks to pony up a bit. Let's share the burden of paying down the deficit equally across society."
The provincial budget tabled in March included $17.7-billion worth of spending cuts over the next three years and drew ire from the labour movement due to a plan to freeze wages for public sector employees.
Though McGuinty has backed off from several contentious measures in recent days, including a plan to freeze funding for the Ontario Disability Support Program, the budget remains essentially the same.
"As you look out on this lawn today Dalton take a look at your base. You're base is on the lawn of Queen's Park," Ryan said in a direct plea to the premier Saturday. "You cannot get elected my friend when you don't have folks on the telephones, when you don't have people knocking on doors and when you don't have people handing out flyers."
Though Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has said his party will vote against the budget, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has chosen to use her newfound leverage to try to gain concessions from McGuinty, pushing for a tax hike on income over $500,000 as a way to pay for social programs.
"I hope that there is not an election next week, but when it does come there will be a choice and it will be a clear one," Horwath told the crowd gathered at Saturday's rally. "Do we want more corporate tax giveaways that cost billions of dollars or do we want smart investments that create jobs? Do we want to start closing daycares or do we want to ask a little more from our millionaires? Do we want to work with the people who make Ontario work or do we want the same old antagonism that has failed time and time again."
CUPE 2544 President Dave Reusch, whose union represents custodial workers within the Peel District School Board, told CP24 his members would rather head back to the polls than see the provincial budget passed.
"We don't want to go to an election, but for the workers here today we'd rather head to the polls then see this budget go through," he said shortly before the march departed Queen's Park.
Prior to Saturday's rally some of the organizers predicted as many as 10,000 people from across the province would attend.
Though a final head count was not immediately available Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, said he was pleased with the turnout.
"It was wonderful and you know there were definitely union members here, but there were also groups from all kinds of different communities," he told CP24. "Student groups, childcare advocates, seniors. We all joined together because we know that we can do better in Ontario."
Mayor Ford skips rally
Though a long list of dignitaries attended Saturday's rally, Mayor Rob Ford wasn't one of them.
During a community cleanup event at Amesbury Park Saturday morning he called the budget a "provincial issue"
"I'll let Mr. McGuinty deal with it," he told CP24.