More than 100 protesters turned out to greet Ontario Premier Doug Ford at a Progressive Conservative fundraising event in Port Dover on May 9.
The group represented a number of public-sector unions, as well as anti-poverty advocates.
They gathered at the entrance to the Lions Community Centre on St. George Street around 3:30 p.m. — just in time to greet ticket-holders and other party faithful as they arrived for the event.
“Poverty has two faces,” was the message Deborah Boudreau of Simcoe, a member of the anti-poverty group Norfolk Rise, came to deliver.
“You don’t have to be down on your luck to live in poverty,” she said.
“You can have a job and still have to live in your car. You just can’t tell who’s living in poverty. And I hope he chokes on his dinner.”
During last year’s election campaign, Ford said on numerous occasions that Ontario’s $325-billion accumulated debt and the $1-billion per month in servicing charges is a short- and long-term threat to effective delivery of services in the province.
The Tories say Ontario operating deficit at the moment is in the range of $15 billion a year and they want to rein that in.
Public sector unions have been speaking out ever since.
Jenn Faulkner of Port Dover is president of Local 5100 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Faulkner was at the protest representing the interests of local school board support workers, many of whom deal one-on-one with special needs students.
Faulkner said the work of her members is difficult enough without the province adding to their problems. The big fear is that front-line workers will lose the staff they need to deal effectively with students with special needs.
These include students with autism, behavioural problems, Down syndrome and mental health issues. Some students must be monitored by three staff members, Faulkner said.
She said there are already problems with violence and property destruction in the system without reducing oversight of these students.
“Over the last 10 years, resources have been taken away from special needs students and students in general,” she said. “And now he (Ford) is going after the manpower. Without that manpower we cannot keep students safe in these programs.”
Faulkner noted that education workers are also worried about sanitation and basic maintenance within the school system as the number of janitors and grounds-keepers is reduced.
Bruce Hazlewood is president of District 23 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, the bargaining unit representing high school teachers in Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk. He said his membership was in Port Dover to articulate many of the same concerns.
“If there are financial problems the government is trying to deal with, they shouldn’t do it on the backs of children,” Hazlewood said.
Several other unions were represented at the May 9 event. These include Unifor, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Nurses Association, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association among others.
Ford’s handlers indicated the day before the event that the Premier would make time to meet the local media. But Ford’s handlers withdrew his availability last Thursday citing time constraints.
Because this was a party event and not an official public function, only people with tickets were allowed in the community centre. The local media wasn’t permitted to listen to premier speak.