Ontario: Protesters shadow Conservative Premier Harris' campaign

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 8 May 1999 11:20:09 -0700 (PDT)

What lessons could USA activists learn from Canada's anti-poverty activists?

Also, I invite your comments on the related article below:

FWD  Toronto Star News Story - May 7, 1999

Protesters may be Harris' biggest thorn
Disgruntled unionists vow to dog his campaign

By Daniel Girard - Toronto Star  Queen's Park Bureau
[With files from Vanessa Lu]

 It's only two days old, but the Ontario election campaign is shaping up as
a battle between Conservative Premier Mike Harris and anti-Tory protesters.

 Harris is out to convince voters his plan will keep Ontario ``on the right
track.'' The protesters are trying to derail him.

 The conflict erupted yesterday when three dozen angry construction workers
and anti-poverty activists at a Willowdale building site drowned out the
Premier's message on job creation and economic prosperity.

 Some of them sparred with plainclothes police. A top union executive was
arrested and later charged with trespassing and assault.

Their numbers were small but the images dominated news coverage of the
first full day of the campaign. They vowed to continue dogging Harris, as
did the 50 protesters who yelled, sang and waved banners against his
policies at Wednesday's kickoff in Newmarket for the June 3 election.

 In Ottawa last night, a protester ran through a hotel ballroom as Harris
was addressing 800 party supporters yelling: ``Tories out. We won't
forget.'' The man then disappeared.

 They are among the scores of teachers, nurses, hospital workers,
anti-poverty activists and unionists who promise to dog Harris as he
criss-crosses Ontario over the next four weeks. They also plan an
advertising campaign.

 ``If our people start getting arrested, you won't have jails big enough to
hold them all,'' Bob White, past-president of the 2.3-million-member
Canadian Labour Congress, said in Toronto.

 Harris chalked up the altercation to ``20 or so protesters'' who don't
have alternatives to his policies so they ``scream and yell and try and
drown out a good plan.''

 Harris dismissed suggestions that repeated protests would prevent him from
getting his message to voters. He also seemed to acknowledge the views of
pundits that having screaming unionists and social activists may firm up
his core support.

 ``That seems to face strong leaders wherever they are,'' he told reporters
in Ottawa. ``If I told union leaders: `Okay, you run the province again,
then we wouldn't have protests.' "

 Dressed in a hardhat and using construction cranes as a backdrop, the
Premier wrapped up the five-minute speech without being heard over the
heckling. He was then escorted by police back to his bus and driven away,
scrapping a planned media conference.

 Harris later met reporters at a hastily arranged news conference on a
rooftop patio in downtown Toronto, joking as it was ``tax cuts to create
825,000 jobs, take two.''

 Harris refused to talk about the arrest or dustup between protesters and
plainclothes police.

 ``I can't comment on how protesters do their job or labour leaders do
their job or police do their job,'' Harris said. ``All I can comment on is
how I do my job.

 ``How we've created 540,000 new jobs. How we've got 375,000 people off

 John Cartwright, who was arrested as he tried to join protesters on the
construction site of the new headquarters for telecommunications firm
Call-Net, called the incident ``outrageous.''

 ``An election is supposed to be a public event,'' said Cartwright, manager
of the 40,000-member Construction Trades Council of Toronto. ``People who
want to ask questions get thrown in jail.''

 But Toronto police Sergeant David Lear said the protesters were trespassing.

Others would have been arrested but officers were only able to handle one
at a time, he said.

 Even though Harris' detailed schedule isn't made public until shortly
before events, the well-organized protesters have so far managed to be on

 ``We've done a phone blitz of all our members and we find that they're
totally behind the union in trying to stop Harris in the next provincial
election,'' said Joe McPhail, business representative with Local 30 of the
Sheetmetal Workers Union. McPhail said he was telephoned about the
Willowdale event just an hour before it happened. He refused to say if it
was organized by the union.

 McPhail was one of the people who stood just behind a phalanx of media and
screamed at Harris about everything from health care and education to

 Just before Harris arrived, Toronto nurse Cathy Crowe was confronted by
several plainclothes police officers as she tried to unfurl a banner that
said: ``Harris = Homelessness.''

[With files from Vanessa Lu]

**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
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interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
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