As It Happens

'We just proved that democracy works': Saskatchewan restores funding to libraries

After weeks of protests in Saskatchewan over cuts to library funding, the government decides to reverse the decision. Christine Freethy, a woman who led the movement, tells As it Happens how amazed she was by the support for libraries.
A woman reads in protest outside of the Saskatoon provincial cabinet office in support of Saskatoon libraries. (Matthew Garand/CBC News)

People in Saskatchewan have been protesting library cuts in their province for weeks. There were rallies, read-ins, and email campaigns. Their fight never stopped, until this week, because they won.

On Monday, the government reversed its decision to cut funding to libraries, restoring all $4.8 million in funding.

Christine Freethy, right, and Sarah Morden founded the Save Saskatchewan Libraries Facebook group. Freethy calls this a "celebration photo," taken after the Drop Everything and Read event. (Christine Freethy)
Christine Freethy is the founder of the Facebook group called Save Saskatchewan Libraries. She spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off from Rabbit Lake, Saskatchewan. Here's a part of that conversation:

CAROL OFF: Why did you get involved in trying to reverse this decision on the part of the Saskatchewan government?

CF: Well, I live in a town of 127 people. We can't get the internet at our house because of poor internet coverage in rural Saskatchewan. So, the library is absolutely … crucial to our lives out here. There are no bookstores. There's nothing to do. So, if you want anything at all — there's no school in our town — the library is the community hub of our town. And it isn't just our town, it's towns like this all across Saskatchewan.

CO: Tell us about this Facebook group — this movement you started.

CF: That was totally a fluke. I'm a volunteer for the library, on the local library board. A lot of people were talking on Facebook … But, there was no kind of like central place where everyone was discussing. So, I just made a little Facebook group and thought I'd invite all the people I know who are also kind of like regional library volunteers. Within a day, we had 1500 people. In 10 days, I had 5000 members.

CO: At peak, what did you get?

CF: Right now, we're up over 7500.

CO: This movement wasn't just on Facebook. It began to do all kinds of other campaigns. Tell us a bit about [how it] expanded?

CF: Well, we used the Facebook group just to kind of like collect everyone. We set up a website so that people could directly email the government from the website. We think over 4000 emails were sent through this website. A letter writing campaign, like hand-written letters, our estimates from what people have reported is at least over 1000 letters were produced in like a week. We held the largest mass demonstration, kind of in a generation, since 1986. It was called "Drop Everything and Read." People gathered in groups in front of their MLA's offices and read as a group. That was over 5000 people in 86 communities. We had protests with 200 people in communities that have never had a protest. It's unprecedented in the history of Saskatchewan.

Christine Freethy's letter to Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. (Christine Freethy)

CO: Have you ever seen people in Saskatchewan turn out like that?

CF: Never. Never. We had people who actually had to watch YouTube videos of what happens at a protest when they were organizing their own, because they'd never been to one or seen one in real life.

CO: I understand there were some soccer moms who had to do that.  

CF: Yes. The librarians in Martensville, they held the largest protest of all. And Martensville is a very well-off kind of like suburb of Saskatoon. They had 350 people. There's never been a protest in Martensville. And they rocked it. There's picture of them on the Internet in their yoga pants with their megaphone. It was incredible.

We believed that we could change it and we did.- Christine  Freethy

CO:  It must have made you feel great to see that.

CF: It really moved me. You know ... I'm not an important person, Carol. I'm just some lady who lives on a farm. To know that like 7000 other people, pretty much like me, who are kind of a little apolitical and stuff … didn't just whine about it, didn't just accept that the government would do this. We believed that we could change it and we did.

CO: What about next year? What about the next budget, when they look to see what they can cut again? Do you worry that this will start being tempting again?

CF: You know, the thing about next year is that they're talking about a review of the Saskatchewan libraries act. Budgets are set every year for the libraries, so that it's only one year of funding, is not unusual. You know what I have to say to the ... idea of reviewing Saskatchewan libraries, I say bring it. I've got 7000 people that aren't about to go away. We're going to be watching this thing and advocating all the way through. We've already started creating local library advocacy groups. So, I'm not worried that our movement is about to take a nap.

You know what, I guess we just proved that democracy works.- Christine Freethy

CO: You're going to make them sorry they ever took on the libraries.

CF: They are already sorry that they ever took on the libraries. I'll tell you that right now.

CO: Christine, you are an inspiration.

CF: Well, you know what, I guess we just proved that democracy works.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear more of our conversation with Christine Freethy, listen to the full interview above.