A fledgling coalition made up of local citizens whose values span the ideological spectrum have found common ground in its opposition to the Ford administration’s wide-ranging cuts to public services.
And it promises to hold the Ontario government’s feet to the fire with weekly lunchtime demonstrations outside the constituency office of Newmarket-Aurora MPP and Deputy Premier Christine Elliott, said a spokesperson for the aptly named Common Ground, York Region’s pan-partisan protest movement.
“We are a diverse group of people who have common ground in opposing the austerity agenda of the Doug Ford government,” said Jon Aston, a founding member of Common Ground who is also president of the Newmarket-Aurora NDP riding association. “It just seemed natural that it had the potential to become an organized protest movement.”
The lack of a local May Day rally, billed as a general strike against Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government, which was held May 1 in communities across the province, spurred the formation of Common Ground almost overnight.
Drawing on the organizational heft of York Region’s established Fight for $15 and Fairness group, Aston raced to the CUPE Local 905 office to pick up signs, and Facebook friends spread the word that a demonstration was planned for May 1 outside Elliott’s Yonge Street and Mulock Drive area office.
That first protest found the group locked out of the constituency office, after members went inside to raise their concerns. A spokesperson for Elliott told NewmarketToday that when it became clear that the residents were not interested in a productive discussion, they were thanked for their time.
"The government is taking a responsible approach to balancing the budget that restores confidence in Ontario’s finances, while protecting what matters most – our world-class health care and education systems," Hayley Chazan told NewmarketToday at the time.
The dozen or so residents who turned out for the two protests so far say they are in it for the long haul. Their shared concerns include the Ford administration’s cuts to health care, education, the environment and just about every public service in between.
“The fact that we had more than a dozen people show up last week and again at this week’s protest tells me the group is going to grow,” Aston said. “What’s interesting is the people who showed up normally just vote, and now they’re out protesting, that’s a big step.”
Retired librarian Nancy Fish, who served as a board member and chairperson of the Newmarket Public Library and who also managed a large scientific library, said the deep cuts to the Southern Ontario Library Service and the Ontario Library Service-North are egregious and will have devastating effects.
“(Those services) are the very agencies that bring high-level efficiencies to libraries throughout Ontario through their inter-library loan system, as it allows libraries to borrow books throughout the province,” Fish said. “Libraries have been under the gun to find efficiencies for decades and we do an outstanding job in this area. If the Ford agenda is to find efficiencies, why would it slash the very service which brings great efficiencies to Ontario libraries?”
Fish also questions why buck-a-beer, tailgating parties and new licence plates appear to be more important to the Ontario government than social services for its citizens.
She lists pain medication reductions from weekly to four times a year as a concern, as well as the downloading of services to municipalities and regions, the long-term consequences of cuts to firefighters, teacher job loss and the controversial move to restore Ontario Municipal Board rules for development disputes.
“As a lifelong resident of Newmarket, I want a say in Newmarket’s development and make-up,” Fish said. “Now it will be developer-led.”
Fish, along with Aston and resident David Hanna, as representatives of the group, had the chance to share their respective concerns with Elliott’s staff at the May 8 protest. They spoke for about five minutes with constituency manager Dawn Gallagher Murphy.
Longtime Newmarket resident and prominent community-builder Jackie Playter, who participated in both protests, said she plans to participate every week “for as long as it takes to make Doug Ford realize that he can't just take away from the average citizen everything that we hold dear”.
“Ford is taking things away from the people who need it most and that is so unfair,” Playter said. “Libraries, hospitals, schools, programs for people with disabilities, and fairness are what make Ontario great. We need to fight for those who can't.”
A York Regional Police community liaison officer met the group yesterday at the Nature’s Emporium plaza to inform them of their rights and provide advice on how to stay on the right side of the law.
Common Ground is now scouting for local organizers in York Region’s nine other provincial ridings to stage demonstrations at the offices of all the region’s MPPs.
It is also moving its lunchtime protest days to Fridays, when the local MPP is more likely to be in the riding.
“We hope to get a chance to talk directly to Christine Elliott,” Playter said of Common Ground members. “(In our group), the Liberals have joined forces with the NDP and the Greens and anyone else that wants to join the protest is welcome. Doug Ford’s cuts affect everyone. He is attacking the heart of Ontario with cuts to our education system, health care, libraries, autism funding, and more.”
Aston agrees, saying he doesn’t like the way things are going in Ontario.
“In this province and this country, we take democracy for granted. It is so fragile, and that’s a big part of the reason I decided I had to get active in politics,” he said. “Because voting is the bare minimum you can do and half of the country doesn’t do that. I can no longer just do the minimum. I can’t live with myself if I just do that.”
Common Ground will demonstrate every Friday, beginning May 17, from noon to 1 p.m. at MPP Christine Elliott’s constituency office, 16635 Yonge St., Unit 22, in the Nature’s Emporium plaza.For more information on Common Ground, visit them on Facebook.