Days before Members of Provincial Parliament vote on the Liberal government’s proposed budget, which would see department budget cuts, a corporate tax rate freeze, a wage freeze to public sector employees and a revision to single-employer public sector pensions, an estimated 10 to 15,000 union members swarmed the front lawn of Queen’s Park sporting union flags, placards and unity against the Ontario Legislature.
More than 50 unions and 86 community groups were on hand Saturday afternoon to call Premier Dalton McGuinty’s budget an assault on the middle class, the province’s public sector workers, families and seniors in Ontario.
“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,” said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), which was responsible for Saturday’s massive “Day of Action” rally. “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.”
If the premier does not receive at least two opposition votes Tuesday, the province will hold its second election in six months. In order to get the necessary votes, McGuinty has attempted to appease New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath. He has agreed to increase support for the Ontario Disability Support Program and child care. However, Horwath did take a key demand off the table: removal of the provincial portion of the HST off of home heating bills.
“Around the world, people are saying it’s a time for change. We’ve watched elections in France and in the U.S. where people are asking whether or not the super rich are paying their fair share,” said Horwath in front of a crowd that called upon her to “vote it down”. “Together, it is us, we are raising these issues and the people of Ontario, the people of Canada, the people around the world are responding.”
Horwath explained that when the Liberal government introduced this budget last month, it left a lot of Ontarians behind, including workers, those who are looking for work and people who are already struggling. She added that the costs of Liberal scandals, such as ORNGE and e-health, are being put on the backs of the impoverished in this province.
“You can agree with me that this budget if profoundly flawed. The path of easy, simple opposition to everything can be very, very tempting, but it is exactly what’s turning people off of politics these days,” stated the Ontario NDP leader.
“It’s making them cynical about the possibility for change. We’re trying something a little bit harder this time. We’re showing the people of this province that we’re prepared to make this minority government work, but we’re also showing them the sort of Ontario we can build together.”
Following the rally, the thousands of union members, community representatives and supporters marched to the streets of downtown Toronto. It marched from Queen’s Park to Wellesley Street along Bay Street, north on Bay to Bloor Street, west on Bloor, south on University Avenue and back to Queen’s Park. It finished at approximately 5:30 p.m.
On Friday, the premier issued a statement where he discussed his five-year plan that will balance the budget in order to stimulate the economy and grow jobs. McGuinty noted that the current budget includes proposals from both Opposition parties.
According to McGuinty, Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives proposed a “very low rate of growth in government spending” and his budget already includes one percent over three years. Meanwhile, Horwath proposes a freeze on corporate income taxes, but McGuinty’s budget maintains a freeze at 11.5 percent.
“Before the budget was tabled, I informed both opposition leaders that in keeping with Ontarians' expectations we would consider changes to make the budget even better,” stated McGuinty. “The PCs abandoned Ontarians from the outset. They decided to vote against the budget before they even read it, risking an unnecessary and expensive election. The NDP have shown a willingness to work across party lines to reach an agreement. We've been working hard with the NDP to better understand their proposals.”