Enduring bouts of rain and hail, about a thousand students, workers, and community members marched through downtown Toronto yesterday as part of the Drop Fees for a Poverty Free Ontario campaign. At 4 p.m., they arrived at Queen’s Park to demand that the provincial government start “investing in the people, ’cause we are the solution,” as the chant went.
The campaign—now in its second year—was started by the Canadian Federation of Students, and has branched out to include groups from the public sector. Accompanying the Ryerson, U of T, and York student unions were delegates from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (sporting “No More Band-Aids or Bail-Outs” placards), the United Steelworkers Union, CUPE Ontario, the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, and the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare, as far as we could keep track, anyway. Together, they urged Dalton McGuinty to protect Ontario citizens from financial hardship by investing in Ontario’s social programs and infrastructure.
The protest was one of thirteen actions taking place across the province.
“There are a lot of issues at play here,” Chairperson of CFS Ontario Shelley Melanson said, “but we don’t believe you have to make a choice between cutting off one hand or the other. The [government] money is there.” And boy, were there ever a lot of issues. The list included tuition fees, healthcare funding, affordable childcare, a livable wage, women’s income rights, affordable public housing, employment equity, new jobs, access to proper shelters, increased social assistance, Aboriginal rights, and status for all immigrants and refugees.
And if you think that’s a lot to take in, last year’s rally was even busier, adding Palestinian flags, anti-War and anti-capitalist protesters, and Communist Party banners—incorporating nearly every popular left-wing political mantra. In an effort to be more succinct this time around, the organizers narrowed it down to a mere eleven issues.
Lowering tuition fees was the foremost concern. “Seventy percent of newly listed jobs require post-secondary education,” said Sandy Hudson, president of the University of Toronto Students’ Union. “So obviously, people need access to education.”
The CFS is asking for a reduction in tuition fees back to 2004 levels. With a new tuition and post-secondary education funding framework being developed by the Ontario government for this February, the organizers say the time is now. Unfortunately, this message—and the many other noble causes—were conflated and confounded within the sea of rally cries, the issues still too widespread to send a clear message.
According to Parkdale Community Centre food bank volunteer Rob Smits, the need for poverty reduction in this recession is crucial. The amount of people lining up for food went up 50% in the last year, but an increase in funding for such food banks and shelters has been slow coming, he said. “The way the government is doling out money is very disparaging.” We at Torontoist heard his message load and clear, but with chants and slogans being heaved at Queen’s Park from every different direction, it’s unlikely Dalton could decipher it.
All photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.