Hundreds of Hamilton teachers and support staff were among a crowd of thousands protesting outside the Ontario Liberal leadership convention venue on Saturday in downtown Toronto.
“People are really pumped,” said Chantal Mancini, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) district 21 teachers bargaining unit.
Mancini says the crowd was even bigger than she expected, with lots of members driving in with their families to the Mattamy Athletic Centre, located inside the former Maple Leaf Gardens.Tim Page and his family were among hundreds of teachers protesting outside the Liberal leadership convention in Toronto Saturday. (Courtesy Antonietta Sanders)
“I've seen tons of our members — there's so many,” Mancini said.
Protesters began gathering Saturday morning at Allan Gardens, a park that is just a short walk from the site of the leadership convention.
At its peak, the mass of protesters was estimated to be 10,000 to 15,000, the CBC’s Steven D'Souza reported.
The groups taking part in the protest included members of the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Canadian Auto Workers, as well as major public-sector teachers' unions.
While many of these larger groups were in Toronto to protest the government’s anti-strike legislation used to impose contracts on teachers, D’Souza said there were other smaller groups present Saturday for separate issues involving the government.
Some protesters were present outside the leadership convention from the early morning, while a much larger mass of protesters participated in a march that began in nearby Allan Gardens and circled past the convention.
Toronto police commended protest organizers for keeping things peaceful and without incident on Saturday, D'Souza said.
The Liberals are in the midst of a leadership renewal process that was prompted by the resignation of Premier Dalton McGuinty, who announced that he was stepping down in October but agreed to stay on until the party selects a new leader.
The Liberals enraged many educators in the public school system by imposing contracts on teachers through the use of controversial legislation that also gave the government the power to quash strikes.
While the government has since repealed Bill 115, also known as the Putting Students First Act, the rift between the teachers and the Liberals has not been healed. That's the same legislation that many unions have opposed, including those involved in the protest on Saturday.
Public elementary teachers launched a series of rotating, one-day strikes in December to protest the bill.
Mancini says no matter who ends up winning the Liberal leadership race, she hopes the winning candidate will be “sympathetic to bargaining rights” and sit down with teachers to have some “much needed dialogue.”
“We just want to have a conversation about respecting education workers,” she said.With files from CBC's Steven D'Souza and the Canadian Press