SEPTEMBER 17, 1995 – September 27 will see the biggest demonstration yet against Mike Harris and the Tory government in Ontario.
On the 22,000 strong Toronto labour day march, hundreds of workers carried signs calling for unionists to join the protest. More than 10,000 flyers announcing the demonstration were distributed to union contingents.
Since the election of the Tories on June 26 of this year we have seen the slashing of welfare payments, a 20 percent cut to transfer payments to municipalities, and over two million dollars taken out of Wheel Trans (the public transportation system for the disabled.) But the biggest cuts are yet to come. When the legislature reconvenes, the Tories have promised to continue their slash and burn agenda. Their target will be unionized workers.
Harris has promised to lay off a minimum of 13,000 public sector workers in the province, a figure that will go higher unless there are concessions on wages. In addition, the Tories vow to get rid of Bill 40, the anti-scab legislation that enables workers to go on strike to defend their wages and conditions.
Any successful attack on the strongest section of the working class – unionized workers – will weaken all our struggles, especially those of the weakest in society. That is why the demonstration on September 27 must be built as broadly as possible.
Already people are mobilizing to make sure it will be a big success. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty is organizing a march against poverty on the same day to culminate in a rally at Allen Gardens. The rally participants will then march to Queen’s Park to join the mass demonstration.
The action has been endorsed by the Labour Council of Metropolitan Toronto and York Region. The Canadian Federation of Students is on side and will be building the action on college and university campuses. Busloads of demonstrators will be coming in from different cities in Ontario, including three buses from Guelph organized by the Guelph anti-cuts coalition and the Guelph and District Labour Council.
Solidarity actions are being planned for the same day in many communities throughout Ontario. The Ottawa Stop the Cuts Coalition is holding a Sept. 27 march and picket outside a Tory MPP’s office.
If September 27 is successful credit must be given to the minority of activists who took on Mike Harris and the Tories even before they were elected. Harris was confronted by several small, but vocal demonstrations when he was on the campaign trail.
In Toronto, for example, there were several protests targeting his attacks on welfare. The Campaign for Equal Families organized a lively protest to underline the Tories’ total lack of support for same sex spousal rights.
And a day after the Tories were elected 700 angry lesbian and gay activists and supporters demonstrated to mark the anniversary of the defeat of Bill 167, the same sex spousal legislation put forward by the NDP. It was a piece of legislation that was opposed by every single Tory MP in the provincial parliament.
And in the face of criticism, even from some on the left, groups like the Embarrass Harass campaign, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and the day care workers have taken on the Tory agenda from the very beginning.
There are signs that the pressure is starting to take effect. September 17, David Tsubouchi, Minister of Community and Social Services, indicated he might “soften” the government’s plans to institute workfare. It’s only because of the anti-poverty mobilizations that he is pretending to care, saying he now understands how difficult life on welfare is. Likewise, Attorney General Charles Harnick had to back down on his plans to refuse to pay lawyers for legal aid services. Some lawyers had threatened to stop working if the government wouldn’t guarantee money to the legal aid plan.
The only reason September 27 has a chance to be a very large and very successful anti-Tory protest is because of these kind of actions and the ones that have been built previously – the 2,500 who came to Queen’s Park the very day the Tories were sworn in, the 2,000 who marched against poverty on July 29, the daycare workers who went out on a one day illegal strike to fight for their wages and for daycare spaces for working parents in Ontario.
From the beginning the Harris government has tried to divide and conquer. During the election they targeted the welfare system and employment equity, trying to claim that programs like these are responsible for the economic uncertainty facing workers today. But more and more people are putting the blame where it really belongs. It’s not women workers, or black workers, or single parents on welfare who are causing unemployment. It’s Mike Harris who plans to lay off thousands and thousands of workers across Ontario, slashing jobs and services.
September 27 is an opportunity to show Harris that he won’t get away with his divide and conquer strategy.
© 1995 Paul Kellogg. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.
 Priti Yelaja, “Labor Poised to Battle Harris,” The Record (Kitchener), September 5, 1995.
 CP, “Entire Ministries May Get Axe,” The Record (Kitchener), September 21, 1995.
 David Israelson, “‘We’ll Be Back,’ Gays Warn,” Toronto Star, June 3, 1995.
 Kelly Toughill, “Minister Softens on Workfare,” Toronto Star, September 17, 1995.
 Tracey Tyler, Kelly Toughill, and Harold Levy, “Ontario Vows to Pay Lawyers,” Toronto Star, September 13, 1995.
 Margot Gibb-Clark, “Lawyers to Tackle Legal-Aid Deficit,” The Globe and Mail, August 28, 1995.