Thousands of teachers, students, and parents from all over Ontario gathered at Queen’s Park on April 6 to protest against proposed changes to education by the provincial government, with many coming from as far as Sudbury and Thunder Bay in more than 150 buses.
The rally was organized by five different teachers’ unions: the Elementary Teachers’ Federation Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario.
Premier Doug Ford’s decisions to increase average high school class sizes from 22 to 28, introduce mandatory online courses for students to obtain a secondary-school diploma, and cut at least 3,475 teaching jobs across the province were among the issues protested.
These cuts could lead to class sizes of up to 40 students, the cancellation of various electives, and dismantling effects for the Ontario autism program.
The protesters packed the streets with banners at 12:00 pm, chanting “Shut it down!”, “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts,” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Doug Ford’s gotta go!”
Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath spoke at the rally, condemning Ford and the education cuts.
“We have an education system that is really hanging by the thread, and we have a premier who is about to cut that thread,” Horwath said. “We are here to say no.”
Annalisa Crudo-Perri, President of the Ontario Association for Parents in Catholic Education Toronto also took to the stage. “Education is an investment in our child’s futures,” Crudo-Perri said.
“It must not become a deficit reduction exercise that will compromise their opportunity to seek higher postsecondary education.”
OSSTF President Harvey Bischof also spoke at the rally, saying, “Our message is simple: our education system needs investment, not cuts.”
He also believes that the Ford government is “starving the system” to allow for the privatization of the education system.
Other speakers at the event included AEFO Ontario President Rémi Sabourin, Ontario School Board Council of Unions President Laura Walton, CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn, Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff; and Ontario Federation Labour President Chris Buckley.
“The premier, of course, will continue to threaten us and intimidate us, tell his lies, we will take none of it,” Yussuff exclaimed to the crowd.
Minister of Education Lisa Thompson echoed a previous comment from Ford, who called teachers’ unions “thugs,” and said in a statement the day before the rally that unions have not been focused on student success, adding that the government would not be “distracted by union tactics.”