Teachers, students and paramedics were among a group of about 80 demonstrators who descended on Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop’s Orillia office Friday afternoon.
They were protesting the Progressive Conservative government’s funding cuts to various sectors.
Liz Rolston is a teacher whose position was declared redundant April 25, meaning she will not have that job in September.
“I’m determined to teach, so I’ll figure out how I can do that, but it’s a disappointing setback,” said Rolston, who has taught extended French at Twin Lakes Secondary School since 2017.
“This is important. Our students need caring, trusted adults in school. If we lose them, kids are going to fall through the cracks," she said.
Asked how many French teachers there are at Twin Lakes, Rolston said, “not enough.”
“(Teacher layoffs) are a direct result of the class-size average going up,” she added.
Her message to Dunlop: “Listen to us. Talk to us. We’re not the union; we’re individuals.”
But Dunlop wasn’t there to hear the message.
Jen Hare, president of the District 17 teachers bargaining unit with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said she was told about a week ago that Dunlop would be at her office Friday.
When the demonstrators showed up, they saw a sign on the door stating the office was closed because Dunlop was touring the riding with Raymond Cho, minister of seniors and accessibility.
“We need Jill Dunlop to be here at her office when people come to tell her what they think, or she won’t be here in three years,” said Janet Bigham, president of the Simcoe County chapter of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.
Increasing the average class size is “the worst thing this government could do,” Bigham said, noting 20 special-education teachers in the county have lost their jobs as a result. “Shame on this government.”
Dunlop’s absence didn’t stop Sami Pritchard from addressing the MPP as though she were there.
“Unlike you, MPP Dunlop, we will stand up for the rights of (students),” said Pritchard, national executive representative of the Canadian Federation of Students—Ontario. “The only fear here should be your chances for re-election.”
Janel Perron showed up Friday on behalf of paramedics and other members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).
“The county got notified recently that the province has frozen funding for paramedics at 2017 levels,” said Perron, a Simcoe County paramedic and a member of the executive board for OPSEU’s Region 3.
That funding freeze doesn’t make sense, he said, when the call volume for Simcoe County Paramedic Services “goes up every year, roughly four-and-a-half to six per cent annually.”
“The county is going to have to determine how they are going to make up that shortfall or if they cut paramedics,” he said.
He had a request for Dunlop: “We are simply asking to be included in the process and consultations for the restructuring of paramedic services across the province.”
Retired teachers, including Dave Graham, attended Friday’s rally to support those affected by the education cuts.
“What Premier (Doug) Ford and Jill Dunlop and the government are doing is damaging,” said Graham, who taught at Park Street Collegiate Institute, OD/Park Secondary School and Orillia Secondary School.
Dunlop was once a student of Graham’s.
“She knows how committed I am to excellence in education in Ontario,” he said.
Graham said he is “embarrassed for our province right now” and he slammed the government for spreading “misinformation.”
“(Ford) said not one teacher will lose their job,” Graham said. “He’s right. Way more than one teacher is losing their job.”