Thousands of unionized municipal employees took to the streets of Montreal on Saturday in the largest protest yet against the Quebec government’s proposed pension reform legislation, Bill 3.
The mass march attracted an estimated 50,000 demonstrators from around Quebec and closed Sherbrooke Street to traffic as the protest made its way toward the offices of Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.
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Since June, firefighters, police officers and other municipal employees have been protesting against Bill 3, which would see municipal employees shoulder part of an estimated $4 billion pension deficit.
Their unions say the government is negotiating in bad faith and undercutting collective agreements.
Protesters waved placards carrying with the motto "le gouvernement" (the government lies).
Marc Ranger, spokesman for the coalition of municipal employee unions that is spearheading protests against Bill 3, had last week promised what he called a "human wave" of protests across Quebec.
At Saturday's march, Ranger said the mass turnout helps put a "human face" on the protests against Bill 3.
"We're not from another planet, we are citizens, we are taxpayers, we're not the ones who are screwing other citizens like the Charbonneau Commission," he said, referring to the ongoing hearings into corruption in Montreal's construction industry.
Ranger said Saturday's turnout was also the fruit of his coalition's efforts to develop the protests against Bill 3 into a movement against austerity measures in general.
That effort continued Saturday with his claim that all Quebeckers should be concerned with the provincial government's deficit-reduction plans, which he said target parental leave, daycare, health agencies and cuts to the arts and cultural sector.
Union leaders say they are optimistic that desired amendments will be made to the legislation, which is before the National Assembly.
However, they're prepared to fight the legislation through Quebec's court system and even the Supreme Court of Canada if they have to.
Philippe Couillard has said the reforms are necessary if Quebec is to balance its books by 2015-2016, which his government has promised to do.