The cowbells rang out loudly in Pembroke on Friday the 13th as about a hundred union members and concerned citizens attended a rally to protest against provincial government cutbacks. Michael Wright, President of the Renfrew and District Labour Council, welcomed the group as they gathered at the Marina Amphitheatre before marching to the downtown offices of MPP John Yakabuski. Wright said the rally was to “fight back against the Ford government cuts and to tell the politicians that we need to invest in our future and not cut vital services that we are dependent on as Canadians.”
Many protesters were worried about cuts to education like Zoë, age 3, and Catherine Brunet.
Christian Sell, President of Renfrew County Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, then addressed the crowd saying, “The challenges facing our kids are substantial. In some cases it seems we have turned back the clock towards one room school houses, where some of our kids are seeing multi-level classrooms, as some teachers are trying to deliver as many as four different courses to four different groups of kids simultaneously in one classroom. Unfortunately it will be our most at risk students who will pay the greatest price.”
He said, “According to the Conference Board of Canada every dollar invested in Education will generate $1.30 of economic benefit to Ontario. Each dollar cut from education will result in $1.30 in additional costs to Ontario as we will need to support those without a high school diploma.”
Christian Sell OSSTF (left) and Amy Scholten Renfrew County Legal Clinic addressed the group.
Amy Scholten, Executive Director of Renfrew County Legal Clinic, spoke next. She thanked everyone for the “tremendous support” the clinic has received in recent months but warned that more cuts are scheduled, despite the government’s promise that front line services would not be affected. She told the audience that former Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin made the “most stunning statement ever because our judges do not comment on provincial politics. She said, ‘The most advanced justice system in the world is a failure if we do not provide justice for those that it’s meant to serve.'”
The final speaker before the march was NDP candidate for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, Eileen Jones-Whyte. (Shown at left) Citing a recent Financial Post report, Jones-Whyte talked about the effect of the cuts: “The standard of living, the dignity of all of us, has been diminished by the conservative Party’s many small, and not so small, cuts to these programs which, in spite of campaign promises, have done nothing to improve the financial situation of the Province. We, the ordinary people of Ontario, suffer while Doug Ford and his cronies and well-connected people in large corporations prosper. As workers in these fields, we know that these are short-term savings which will have dire social, health and financial consequences which will be felt by each one of us. Now, in the near future, and for years to come.”
The rally then proceeded to march into downtown Pembroke, carrying signs and ringing cowbells along the route. Some passing motorists honked their horns in solidarity. When the marchers reached the Pembroke office of MPP John Yakabuski, they assembled in front of the building. They were disappointed to find that no representative from Yakabuski’s office came out to speak to the group.