Group of CUPE Ontario activists standing together with flagOn Saturday, February 22, CUPE Ontario joined thousands of labour and community allies for a rally outside the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario’s policy convention in Niagara Falls. 

The rally was organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour and drew people from communities across the province to demonstrate against Conservative cuts to public services. 

“This is a government which has pushed an agenda of cuts to services across the board and cuts to taxes on corporations and the wealthiest,” said Fred Hahn, CUPE Ontario President and one of the rally speakers. “We’re here because every community across the province is impacted by the Ford Conservatives’ attacks on the services Ontarians depend on and our members provide. People from all these communities came together today to put an end to cuts and to demand investments.”

Referencing Wednesday’s Financial Accountability Office of Ontario’s report on tax expenditures, Hahn pointed out that cuts to health care, education, and social services, among others, could have been avoided. The report details the 149 tax breaks in the province, most of which benefit higher-income individuals and corporations, amounting to $44.4-billion of lost revenues. 

“The reality is we’re suffering from a revenue problem in this province,” continued Hahn, noting that merely matching the corporate income tax rate of provinces like Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island would bring Ontario an additional $5 billion in revenue. “That could go towards funding our schools and universities, our hospitals, our social services, and our municipalities to finally serve all Ontarians.” 

Instead, the Ford Conservatives are scapegoating workers to distract from the government’s self-inflicted revenue problem. As the union representing 280,000 public sector workers in the province, CUPE Ontario has been at the forefront of challenging the government’s Bill 124, legislation which violates Charter rights to free and collective bargaining by freezing public sector wages to a maximum of 1% annual increase.

“This government created a crisis and is looking for workers and communities to pay the price,” said Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE Ontario. “Luckily, all the protests we’re seeing across this province, and this government’s plummeting popularity, tell us that people see through this. We didn’t cause this crisis and we won’t allow this government to violate our rights, restrict our wages, and cut our services when it’s their policies that got us into this mess.”  

The Niagara Falls rally is just one of many demonstrations in Ontario of a growing movement in opposition to the Ford government. “Right here in Niagara, we’ve seen an increase in paramedics waiting to off-load patients because of cuts and staff shortages and students at all our four school boards aren’t receiving the supports they need,” said Keith Levere, Niagara and District CUPE Council President. “Some of the details might be different, but the same basic story is happening everywhere else in this province. The thousands of us gathered here are just a small cross-section of this broader movement.” 

“We’re proud that so many of our members joined community members and people from other unions to oppose this government’s agenda,” Hahn said. “We came here to send a message to this party and to all the Conservative MPPs: now’s the time to listen to Ontarians.”

“Let’s remember that it doesn’t have to be this way,” Hahn finished. “The policies of this government took us in the wrong direction by cutting services, blaming workers, and giving huge tax breaks to the richest folks. It’s upside down. Instead, we could invest in communities and actually support the most vulnerable Ontarians.”