Province-wide teachers’ strike draws thousands outside Kitchener City Hall
KITCHENER -- A massive rally outside of Kitchener City Hall in solidarity with teachers was one of many across Ontario.
Waterloo Regional Police predicted that close to 10,000 people took part in the downtown Kitchener event on Friday.
Local education union members say that they may represent different workers, but their message to the provincial government is the same: a fair deal.
“We just don’t have enough resources,” said French public teacher Johanne Leclerc. “It is incredibly frustrating.”
Other issues teachers have said they are protesting include class sizes and mandatory e-learning, among others.
“Mr. Lecce, come back to the table,” said Patrick Etmanski, president of OECTA Waterloo. “Let's get a deal. Let's get this done.”
Ontario minister of education Stephen Lecce says the government will be standing firm on their principles.
“We have a choice as a government,” he said. “I could acquiesce today to a $1.5 billion sector-wide increase which are being demanded over the course of the next three years for compensation, or the taxpayer can count on the government that any extra money will go to the investment of our schools and the investment of our children.”
The local unions say they understand the disruption as the rally caused road closures along King Street from around 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
UPDATE:— Waterloo Regional Police (@WRPSToday) February 21, 2020
The teacher's rally is now over. Advising motorists to please use caution in the downtown Kitchener area as there will be an increase in pedestrian traffic. Thank you. https://t.co/jHmzol6EMM
“We hope this is the last day we have to be together like this,” said a third participant.
THE OECTA, OSSTF, ETFO, and the union representing French public teachers were all on hand at the rally in Kitchener along with parents, community members, and students.
"I don't think we have ever seen a crowd this big in Kitchener," said Etmanski.
The province-wide job action has seen all schools close down, 200,000 teachers walk off the job for the day, and tensions between the unions and government reach a new high.
“When you have a government that plays politics with publically funded education, that claims there’s division between members and leadership [of teachers’ unions], that claims there’s division between parents and educators,” said Harvey Bischoff, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. “When that division absolutely does not exist then you need to show unity.”
The last strike involving all Ontario teachers was in 1997 protesting changes to classroom time in a proposal known as Bill 1-60.
The Mike Harris government at the time did not yield and the bill was passed. The strike lasted two weeks and resulted in more than two million students being out of the classroom.