Hundreds of demonstrators - public union members and concerned citizens alike - marched the streets of Toronto and gathered at the Yonge-Dundas Square in protest of Mayor Rob Ford and his administration's policies and cuts.
Although Toronto city council is running a balanced budget this year, the city is facing a $774 million budget shortfall for 2012. Many public officials at city hall are speculating that Mayor Rob Ford’s administration will look at numerous cuts to balance next year’s budget.
Public unions are also concerned over the mayor’s agenda. Assorted labour and community organizations, who arranged Saturday’s march and protest, are concerned over the privatization of garbage collection, the removal of the Toronto Transit Commission’s right to strike and the sale of Toronto Public Housing dwellings.
Hundreds marched along Dundas Street West to Yonge-Dundas Square. Union members, activists, students and concerned citizens packed the city square and “demanded respect” from the city. Many of those who attended the rally were garbage collectors, transit operators, auto workers, city employees and students.
“Mayor Ford may have been elected, but he isn't a czar,” said President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Sid Ryan. “When you ignore the interests of the people who live and work in this city and start axing services and slashing jobs, you are thumbing your nose at democracy and the electorate. People from all over the city are angry and they are demanding respect.”
Many people carried flags that stated: “TTC Privatization First Stop: Profits Last Stop: Services,” “Stop paying the rich: Increase funding for social programs,” “Privatizing public services: The gravy train express for friends of Rob Ford” and “My tea party has no gravy.”
The “Rally for Respect” was endorsed by various public groups, including ACORN Canada, Toronto International Women’s Day Committee, Greenpeace Canada, Good Jobs for All Coalition, Canadian Federation of Students, Canadian Labour Congress and Toronto Disaster Relief Committee.
“In the election, we saw a lot of debate about future plans for the city, but we weren't expecting existing services to be cut and key public assets to be privatized,” said President of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, another organization who endorsed the event, John Cartwright. “There are many [Torontonians] that make up this city and it is the city's services, public transit and arts funding that tie us all together."
One public union member said that he was generally concerned throughout the municipal election last year because most of the mayoral candidates discussed either “substantial cuts or minor cuts.”
“The bottom line is that city hall wants to cut everything because it suits their agenda,” said Luke Reynolds, a member of a local public union. “It wouldn’t have mattered if it was Ford, [George] Smitherman or Rocco [Rossi], they all wanted some sort of cuts. What our local government should be doing is to cut their own spending and not hurt the thousands of families who are constantly threatened with cuts.”
Reynolds added that 2012 is going to be a dangerous year for union workers across the city because of the aforementioned budget shortfall. “Next year, Ford and his allies are going to hurt us big time with cuts, wage freezes or mass layoffs.”
Saturday’s protested concluded with a march to city hall where they urged the city to establish more public consultations on civic services.