Sudbury

Thousands to rally at 'general' strikes against Ford government, but do protests work?

Every day there seems to be a protest against a policy of Ontario's Progressive Conservative government. On Wednesday, there will be rallies across the province against the government in general.

General Strike Against Ford to be held in two dozen cities across Ontario, including Sudbury and Timmins

Some two dozen protests are scheduled across Ontario on Wednesday, all under the banner of 'General Strike Against Ford.' (Jason Viau/CBC)

Samantha Pitzel doesn't work for the Ontario government and she says she isn't really personally affected by the cuts being made to provincial programs.

But the 30-year-old says she can't help but speak out against the approach of the Progressive Conservatives led by Premier Doug Ford.

She is organizing the Sudbury edition of the General Strike Against Ford, happening in some two dozen cities across Ontario on Wednesday. 

"There doesn't really seem to be a plan," says Pitzel, who was once the student union president at Laurentian University.

"I mean these cuts are coming out of nowhere. The goal doesn't seem to be to reduce the deficit, because that's not what's happening and it's really dramatically impacting some of the most vulnerable groups in our society." 

Pitzel says she isn't sure if the rallies will make the government change course, but she is hopeful it will start conversations between voters, especially those who voted PC in last year's election. 

"I think it's important for people to stand up and say 'Hey, we're not OK with this' because really the government works for us. Doug Ford works for us. So it's up us to say 'Hey, this is not what we want. This is not what we voted for,'" says Pitzel. 

Samantha Pitzel, 30, is organizing the General Strike Against Ford protest in Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC )

Laurie McGauley plans to be at Tom Davies Square for the noonhour rally.

Back in 1997, she organized protests in Sudbury against a different Progressive Conservative premier.

The Celebration of Resistance was part of province-wide Days of Action and saw hundreds of people march through the streets and gather at Sudbury Arena.

Like today with the Ford government, in the 1990s there were frequent protests against Harris's Common Sense Revolution.

McGauley, now 63, winces when asked if the protests made a difference, considering the Tories were re-elected with another majority in 1999.

The Celebration of Resistance in Sudbury against the PC government of Premier Mike Harris drew thousands of protesters in March 1997. (supplied)

"I think it made a difference in terms of strengthening our spines or making us realize we were going to have to fight for every little piece we could get," she says.

"I think you need to protest, because otherwise what do you do? You just fall into a ball of despair."

Robert Benzie, the Queen's Park bureau chief for the Toronto Star, says it's too "simplistic" to say Ford is a repeat of Harris.

He says the Progressive Conservative cuts in the 1990s were much deeper compared to the recent Ford government budget, which actually plans to spend more than the Liberals they ousted last year.

"It's the not same as in 1995 when they were slashing budgets and costing thousands and thousands of jobs," says Benzie.

"Ford claims still that there'll be no jobs lost. Mr. Harris didn't say that. He in a weird way kind of relished the fight with unions."

Conservative Premier Mike Harris released Ontario's first Sunshine List in 1996. (CBC)

Benzie says Ford doesn't seem to have "the same ideological core" as Harris and points to the partial restoration of some autism services after parents spoke out earlier this year.

He says that demonstrations seem to have an impact on this government as long as it's "real people" chanting and carrying placards and not "professional protesters."

"He's susceptible to an emotional appeal," Benzie says of Premier Ford. 

"He's a bit of a softie." 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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