Provincial budget talks met with protest in Hamilton


(Ahmad Gaied, executive vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, left, stands with protestors outside of the Sheraton Hotel.) Photo Credit: Jake Hribljan

Ahmad Gaied, executive vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, left, stands with protestors outside of the Sheraton Hotel. (Photo by Jake Hribljan/ The Sheridan Sun)

While government bureaucrats recessed in the warm east ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel downtown Hamilton, union workers, labour activists and other protestors raged outside in the freezing cold against the Ontario government’s new austerity measures.

Last Monday, officials from the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs hosted a public hearing so citizens could make statements and recommendations in regards to the 2016 provincial budget.

A protest was organized in response by the Ontario Federation of Labour, which was highly critical of the Liberal government’s plan to cut hospital spending and sell off 60 per cent of Hydro One.

“Our message is directed exactly at Premier Kathleen Wynn. We’re here to say that the austerity agenda is failing the people of Ontario,” said Ahmad Gaied, executive vice – president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. “A generation of Ontarians has grown up in a province that is becoming increasingly unequal. Workers and their families have watched as a quarter million of good manufacturing jobs have drained out of our province.”

Roughly 80 protestors chanted and marched, carrying signs in front of the hotel as many cars drove by, repeatedly honking their horns in solidarity.

Wynn has come under much scrutiny with her government’s decision to sell off the majority of Hydro One to private interests in an effort to balance the province’s budget.

Another of Wynn’s actions taken to balance the budget has been a four-year freeze on hospital spending, but with rising costs, hospitals are being forced to lay off staff. These cuts to hospitals drew the ire of many of the protestors.

“Deep government cuts to social programs have plunged Ontario to the absolute bottom of all the provinces here in this country,” Gaied said. “As a result, Ontario has seen the worst hospital funding.”

According to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Ontario spends about 25 per cent less on health care per person than other provincial governments. Roughly, $350 less per person.

Malcolm Buchanan, president of the Congress of the Union of Retirees Hamilton Chapter, says the Ontario government needs a strategy to deal with an aging population and rising health care costs.

“We need a national drug plan. Pharmaceuticals are too expensive,” said Buchanan. “There is no senior health strategy in Ontario.”

According to a 2014 report by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, Canada is failing its population with its lack of a pharmaceutical drug plan.

“Universal, publicly funded pharmacare is the dominant standard among most OECD countries. The lack of drug coverage in Canada is an anomaly,” stated Marc-Andre Gagnon in the report. “Countries with integrated pharmaceutical coverage achieve better access to medicines and greater financial protection for the ill, at significantly lower costs than any Canadian provinces achieve.”

Jobs and manufacturing was another subject of interest among the protestors. Gary Howe, president of Local 1005 United Steelworkers, says it is time the Ontario government makes a priority of preserving good manufacturing jobs, and to keep Stelco functioning. “With the stroke of a pen, a judge in Toronto can take away a worker’s pension that they spent 40 years earning,” said Howe, referring to last October’s Ontario Superior Court ruling that allowed U.S. Steel to halt health payments and millions of dollars to retirees’ pension funds.


Ontario has seen a mass exodus of manufacturing jobs in the new millennium, with more than 300,000 jobs being lost in the last decade. This has led to thousands of Ontarians being forced to move into more precarious jobs and working conditions.

“Across the province 1.7 million people, nearly one third of all workers in this province now earn wages that are at or near minimum wage,” said Gaied. “It is not the kind of living that lets you pay off your student debt, pay for a house, raise a family, retire with any sense of dignity. It is not the life any Ontarian deserves.”

Laura Albanese, a Liberal MPP who serves on the standing committee, noted the province has many tough decisions to make and all presentations will be reviewed and evaluated. “We have to prioritize,” said Albanese. “Every single idea is important.”

Protestors demanded the people of Ontario be given priority in a province where:

  • Median net wealth for the top 10 percent increased by 41 per cent, while the bottom 10 percent saw their earnings decline by 150 per cent.
  • There has been a 38 per cent increase in poverty in Ontario over the past 20 years and nearly one in five Ontario children live in poverty.
  • University tuition fees have outpaced inflation by 601 per cent and are by far the highest in the country, while per student funding for higher education is dead last.

according to a November report by the Ontario Common Front.

“Our children are suffering, our city is suffering, Ontario is suffering,” said Anthony Marco, president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council. “It’s disgusting.”

The last consultation meeting is set for Feb. 1 and 2 in Toronto. Gaied said the Ontario Federation of Labour would be there to make its voice heard.