Thunder Bay

'People are what make our country': Thunder Bay rally urges Ford government to change course

As provincial politicians return to the legislature in Toronto after a five-month recess, a group of Thunder Bay protesters are calling on the governing Progressive Conservatives to change their course.

Protest marks provincial politicians' return to the legislature after a five-month recess

A group of demonstrators holding a rally against provincial funding cuts drive down May Street. (Matt Vis/CBC)

As provincial politicians return to the legislature in Toronto after a five-month recess, a group of Thunder Bay, Ont., protesters are calling on the governing Progressive Conservatives to change their course.

The Monday noon-hour rally, with a caravan of close to two dozen vehicles circling Thunder Bay city hall, was organized by the Thunder Bay District Labour Council to show solidarity with a similar demonstration in Queen's Park.

Labour council president Carlos Santander-Maturana said decisions made by Premier Doug Ford and his government affect all Ontarians.

"In northwestern Ontario, even though we don't elect Conservative MPPs, the cuts to education and the cuts to health care—it's going to aggravate a difficult situation," Santander-Maturana said.

"It's significant from the point of view that we're living in a remote community without proper services. For example, in the case of autism, there is no proper care dedicated and devoted to the kids who need it the most, the most vulnerable in our society. That was cruel and mean-spirited."

'No services'

The provincial government's initial attempt to revamp the Ontario Autism Program resulted in Community Child Resources, Northern Ontario's largest autism service provider, to no longer be able to offer fee-for-service treatment options.

Alina Cameron, representing the Northern Autism Families Matter group, said the changes to the Ontario Autism Program have left her four-year-old daughter with autism unable to get treatment.

"We were on the wait lists but now the wait lists are pretty much gone," Cameron said. "We still haven't accessed services, and now in a lot of cases there are no services left to access."

Cameron called on Ford and his government - namely Children and Community Services Minister Todd Smith - to come to the table and talk. Smith visited Thunder Bay this summer, shortly after he assumed the portfolio, to meet with local families of children with autism.

'Opens their eyes'

Last week's federal re-election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government - albeit in a minority - should serve as a wake-up call for Ford, Cameron said.

"I think the election was a really good check on the Ford government," Cameron said. 

"I hope that opens their eyes that they can't just continue to cut all these social programs like this. You have to help the communities in which you live and function as an economy. People are what make our country. We need to help those, especially those most vulnerable like autistic children, like people with disabilities."