Teachers, students and parents covered the lawn in front of the Ontario legislature Saturday afternoon to protest the Ford government’s planned changes to the province’s education system.
Many in the crowd carried signs declaring “Cuts hurt kids” or “Standing together for students,” while others banged on drums or chanted slogans denouncing the government’s measures.
The rally comes on the heels of a student walkout Thursday that saw tens of thousands walk out of their classrooms with some marching to MPP office’s.
The Ontario government has come under fire for a series of proposed cuts that include increasing class sizes, making students take more online courses and changes to autism support funding.
More than 3,400 teaching jobs are set to disappear province-wide, most of them high school teachers, and all are set to come through attrition and retirement, according to government officials.
The move is expected to save the government $851-million.
Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation President Harvey Bischof tells 680NEWS they are ready for a fight.
“This government is trying to distract from their education policies by focusing on us instead of the policies themselves. Why don’t we focus on the fact that they are slashing teachers from the education system and slashing course options,” said Bischof.
Sam Hammond, the head of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, opened his speech with a call-and-response session with the boisterous crowd.
“Work with me here: If you’re here to stand up for and fight for children with autism and their parents…. If you’re here to protect publicly funded education…. Say ‘I am!'” Hammond shouted to raucous cheers.
Hammond’s union is one of five labour groups, representing education workers across Ontario, that organized Saturday’s rally.
Ontario premier Doug Ford tweeted out Saturday that his government will not be distracted from making the proposed changes, parroting what Education Minister Lisa Thompson said on Friday that the government would not be “distracted by union tactics” such as protests and rallies.
“The fact is that Ontario’s teacher unions have been handed control of the education system for the past 15 years,” Thompson said.
“Despite what unions say, their priority has not been student success and as a result our province’s math scores are dropping and our students find themselves falling further and further behind.”
Hammond forcefully denied that claim on Saturday, saying the student activism on display showed the province’s future is in good hands.
“Don’t forget, Doug Ford: those students are going to be voting in the next provincial election. And we’re voting with them!” he said.
With files from The Canadian Press