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Unity rally draws large crowd

“This is not just about the lockout,” said local Labour Council president Henri Giroux, “this is about democracy.”

By: Laurel J. Campbell

Close to 300 people marched from the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) headquarters to City Hall this morning in support of locked out ONTC workers, and Nipissing University staff and to oppose staffing and service cuts at the North Bay Regional Health Centre.

Present for the event were key provincial and regional labour leaders as well as a number of Northern Ontario MPPs including Patrick Brown, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

“This is not just about the lockout,” said local Labour Council president Henri Giroux, “this is about democracy.”

Speakers demanded Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn put an end to the hospital funding freeze, force arbitration between workers and the ONTC and treat Northern Ontario equitably.

People in North Bay pay the same taxes as people in Toronto, pointed out Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff, one of the speakers at the event. “You should get the same service. It was the wealth of the north that built the prosperity of the south,” he said, adding that the government needed to recognize that “the riches of our country don’t just come from the urban environment.”

Shameful was the word many of the speakers used to describe government cuts that have impacted the North Bay area. As a result of cancellation of the  Northlander and reductions to bus service, with an eye to making transportation in Northern Ontario break even financially, “we have people who can’t go to school and others who can’t get medical treatments,” said John Vanthof, MPP for Timiskaming-Cochrane. “It’s shameful.

“We’re part of Ontario and we demand equitable treatment by the province. We need to make them understand there is life north of Steeles Avenue.”

Timmins-James Bay MPP Charlie Angus also took aim at the provincial government’s treatment of the north saying “We’re a political nobody to them,” he said. “You’ll notice there aren’t any Liberals here today. We are the backbone that built Ontario and we should expect some consideration. We have to start taking back what they’ve taken from us.”

But it was not only Liberals who were absent in the rally crowd.

Jerry Dias, national president of UNIFO said rally organizers had asked for the participation of North Bay Mayor Al McDonald and city councilors none of whom were  in attendance.

“It they want a raise, they better do the work in the community,” Dias said, “because this is truly a community event and good working class jobs make for strong communities.”

Touching on the almost 400 job losses at the hospital, the loss of passenger train service, the ONTC lockout and the privatization of both hydro and highway maintenance, the rally “is really about the future of the North,” said Yussuff.

NDP MPP Vanthof acknowledged the presence in the crowd of provincial PC MPPs Vic Fedeli, Nipissing; Jim Wilson, Simcoe-Gray; and Norm Miller, Parry Sound-Muskoka, as well as PC leader Patrick Brown. The rally was one of the first stops for the party contingent on a 14-day leader’s tour of Northern Ontario.

“We’re putting a huge emphasis on the North,” said Miller, “and we’re going to be doing a lot of listening to concerns from residents, such as the ones we heard here today in North Bay.”