If the Doug Ford government has been successful at one thing, it is uniting many educators, students and parents together against him, said Jen Hare, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation for Simcoe County.
She was one of about 70 people who protested against provincial education cuts outside York-Simcoe MPP Caroline Mulroney’s office in Holland Landing on Friday afternoon.
Angry about a range of changes, including to autism programs, classroom sizes, and program funding, the federation has organized a sort of tour, protesting outside several MPPs' offices around Ontario.
“Caroline Mulroney is our attorney general. She should be the one to step in (when complaints are made en masse),” said Hare. “The one thing the Ford government can be proud of is they have united us.”
A few protesters spoke with staff at Mulroney's office at 4 p.m. when the protest began and were offered a few meeting dates, said Mary-Lynn Seeley, Mulroney's executive assistant.
A request for comment from Mulroney’s office was not returned in time for publication.
Michael Walsh, an electrician from Bradford West Gwillimbury, was at the protest and called recent provincial government cuts “atrocious.”
“It’s not one specific thing. It’s the broad strokes of slashing everything,” he said, pointing to autism program changes as an example. “They’re crippling programs.”
By affecting vulnerable people and social services, he added, “they’re not holding up their end of the bargain” for what Ford campaigned on.
Julie Brydie, a teacher and member of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation for York Region, said she is concerned about how education cuts will affect students.
“We’re afraid for the ramifications of cuts. We’re here to support the students,” she said at the rally.
Protesters stood along the roadside, waving signs and banners and urging drivers to honk their horns as they went by. They chanted “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts.”
Christina Sottile, a teacher at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Elementary School in Newmarket, attended the protest as part of a group from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.
She said her job is not in jeopardy, but she is concerned about other teachers losing their jobs, and cuts to program funding and autism initiatives.
“She (Mulroney) has no idea the number of hours we put in that we take away from our families. We take the emotional work home,” she said.
The cuts “undermine our education” and mean teachers will have less time to help students, she added.
“But obviously drinking beer and tailgating is more important,” she quipped.
Karen Littlewood, vice president-elect with the provincial Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said educators are not getting the answers they need from the provincial government.
“Things have been worse than we ever could have predicted,” she said, noting just yesterday the Ontario government moved to cap pay increases for public-service employees at one per cent.
“It’s not the cost of living,” she said. “There’s no consultations despite the attempts to say this is the biggest consultation (process).”
Friday’s protest fell on the anniversary of Ford’s election as premier one year ago, and Littlewood said the past year has spurred many educators into action more than ever.
“Today’s a happy celebration that there’s only three more years left to go,” she said.