On Tuesday evening, April 23, close to 75 protesters gathered outside the CASO Station to protest Vic Fedeli’s visit, which was hosted by the St. Thomas Chamber of Commerce.
Several educators’ organizations were represented at the protest, including CUPE 4222, ETFO Thames Valley Teacher Local, and Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF).
St. Thomas business owner Timothy Hedden was also responsible for mobilizing the public to protest. Hedden cited the major budget cuts and job losses across Ontario as his motivation for protesting. “Last year the election promise was ‘no front line workers will lose their jobs,’ and now we’re seeing pink slips being handed out all over the province,” he says.
Hedden took issue not only with the budget cuts that have been announced, but also with the way the minister’s visit was organized. “Basically it’s a private event. He’s more or less taking pre-screened questions in a controlled environment. Not very transparent,” he points out. “Chamber members only, $10 to get in – it’s typical, behind closed doors.”
Victoria Toulouse, Acting President of CUPE 4222, says that they’re protesting the cuts seen in education, healthcare, and across the board, especially those that will affect children. “There are other places cuts can come and it shouldn’t be at the kids’ expense. Taking EAs out, the healthcare system, and everything else – it’s a shame.”
“If you don’t get out and have your voice heard, that’s how democracy erodes.” –Timothy Hedden
As someone who works with students in his Youth Acting Program, Hedden is also concerned that EAs and teachers are already tapped out, meanwhile there are a lot of kids who are struggling. “To make cuts at a time like that, it’s going to seriously impact the future of some children.”
During her address to the crowd, Lisa MacMaster of the OSSTF said that changes in funding will result in 283 fewer teachers in the system in Thames Valley over the next four years. This will put additional strain on the remaining teachers and result in mandatory e-learning for high school students in 2020.
Craig Smith, President of the ETFO Thames Valley Teacher Local, summed it up this way: “The point is that education is a large investment, but it needs to be looked at as an investment. Unfortunately this government seems to see it as a cost.” Smith says that the protesters “want to send a positive message to the broader community that public education matters.”
Protesters stayed outside the station from around 4:30pm until after the event started at 7pm in hopes of seeing the Finance Minister. Police were also on the scene for the rally.