NIAGARA FALLS, ONT.—Ontario is headed for a general strike unless Premier Doug Ford changes his ways, a labour leader threatened at a rally Saturday.
Carrying protest signs and waving union flags, about 1,000 people gathered in biting cold winds outside a convention centre where Ford and his Progressive Conservatives are developing their next campaign platform.
“If the Conservatives don’t listen to us … we will shut this province down,” warned Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which organized the event to fight what she called Ford’s “regressive agenda.”
The government couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Leader of several unions, from teachers to health care and grocery store workers, hopped on the back of a flatbed truck to take the government to task for its 1 per cent public sector wage cap, plan for larger class sizes, more online learning, changes to autism funding that have left parents scrambling, and stalling the rise to a $15 minimum wage.
“Let this government know that we will hold them accountable … for what they’re doing to working families,” Coates added.
“They need to change course.”
The crowd arrived on buses from as far away as Windsor and Ottawa, with two protesters bearing elaborate effigies of Ford and many sporting buttons saying “I am the people,” a twist on the premier’s victorious 2018 campaign slogan and theme song “for the people.”
The event followed Friday’s much larger encirclement of Queen’s Park by thousands of teachers from four unions whose one-day strike shut down every school in the province.
“This isn’t just about education,” Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said during 90 minutes of speeches.
“Next comes health care. Next comes all our public services — unless we push back.”
Sarah Labelle of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents tens of thousands of civil servants, echoed the OFL’s threat of widespread labour unrest.
“If it takes a general strike down the road we’re not scared.”
New Democrat MPP Wayne Gates, who represents Niagara Falls in the legislature, said the government has proven itself incapable of managing the province with a number of high-profile policy reversals after measures have backfired.
“They can’t even make licence plates,” he added in a mocking tone, referring to a problem that dogged Ford’s administration all week.
New double-blue plates which went into distribution Feb. 1 are hard to read in the dark because they give off a glare under some lighting conditions.
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After initially denying the problem first raised by a Kingston police officer in a tweet that went viral, Government and Consumer Services said Thursday a fix is the works and plates already issued will be replaced.
The plates have been dubbed “propaganda plates” because they are in Conservative blue colours.