POLITICS
10/28/2019 15:46 EDT | Updated 10/28/2019 16:48 EDT

Doug Ford Returns To Queen's Park, Promises To 'Unite The Country' As Unions Protest

Demonstrators took aim at Progressive Conservative policies while MPPs tried to strike a new tone.

TORONTO — There were only a few heckles for the Opposition and just one standing ovation for Premier Doug Ford Monday as Ontario’s legislature resumed after a five-month recess. 

“It’s gonna take a little bit more to get us up on our feet,” Government House Leader Paul Calandra told reporters at Queen’s Park. 

“There are going to be days when there will be very fierce, passionate debate … but I think ultimately the tone that we saw today is the balance we’d like to strike in the House,” he said. 

“The premier and all of us spent a lot of time preparing for this day.”

Last year, the Speaker of the House had to ask Progressive Conservative members to tone it down after they gave themselves as many as 22 standing ovations in about 45 minutes.

I think it’s important for Ontario to step up. Step up, unite the country. I’ve never seen the country so divided.Doug Ford

The only standing ovation in question period Monday came after Ford was asked by his own MPP, Stan Cho, about the “divisive” federal election campaign. 

Chris Young/Canadian Press
Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks in the Ontario legislature in Toronto, on Oct. 28, 2019.

“I called the prime minister and offered my congratulations to the prime minister, and told him: ‘I understand politics. Let’s get down to work now,’” Ford said, alluding to Justin Trudeau’s many references to him during the election campaign.

“And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re going to work with the federal government. We’re working with municipalities right across this province … I think it’s important for Ontario to step up. Step up, unite the country. I’ve never seen the country so divided.”

Chris Young/Canadian Press
Ontario Premier Doug Ford receives applause from seated PC MPPs as he speaks in the Ontario legislature in Toronto, on Oct. 28, 2019.

While the PCs tried to cool things down after last year’s raucous session, labour unions kept the heat on them with a protest outside. 

“I’m here to send a message to this government that we are not going away,” Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) president Chris Buckley said at a press conference. “The labour movement is here to fight against Conservative cuts.”

Teacher Lindsay Wood came from the Chatham area with a two-and-a-half week old baby in her arms to join the demonstration. 

Wood said she had been working for 13 years on long-term occasional contracts (LTOs) until this year. She didn’t get called for an LTO when school started in September and was only called for one supply teaching day before her son Kip was born. 

Ford needs to realize exactly what impact his decisions are making across the board.Lindsay Wood

“I’m only one of many who have been impacted,” Wood told HuffPost Canada. “Ford needs to realize exactly what impact his decisions are making across the board.”

A spokesperson for the school board that Wood worked for, Lambton Kent District School Board, told HuffPost that “due to ongoing declining enrolment, changes in class sizes and funding restraints,” some schools are being staffed differently this year. 

Buckley said thousands of teachers will lose their jobs as a result of the government increasing class sizes and that Ford has done nothing to help auto workers who have been laid off. 

The union leader also slammed the PCs for giving top bureaucrats a 14-per-cent pay raise while capping wage increases for workers such as teachers and nurses at one per cent per year.

He wouldn’t say if there would be more protests in the coming weeks.

“All I can say about that is stay tuned … We are building a resistance.”

Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said that the government’s improved tone won’t do anything to help people impacted by its policies. 

“The resetting of the environment here is minuscule compared to the resetting of priorities for the government,” the NDP leader said. 

The government’s priorities should be on making sure that Ontarians have fully functioning hospitals, schools and long-term care homes, she said. 

Horwath noted that while the government has reversed some of its decisions, other policies like cuts to child care funding for municipalities have just been put off to future years. 

“It doesn’t really make any difference. It’s just a slower process.”

Earlier On HuffPost: