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Durham protestors target finance minister

Vic Fedeli spoke at annual meeting of Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce

Antonio Stravato, holding a picture of his twin sons who are on the autism spectrum, was one of a number of residents protesting as finance minister Vic Fedeli spoke at the AGM of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by Chris Jones)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Parents of autistic children, teachers, and concerned residents alike gathered outside the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce’s AGM protesting parts of the provincial budget.

As Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s Minister of Finance, spoke at the meeting held at the Ajax Convention Centre, the Durham Region Labour Council was out in force to protest parts of the recently announced budget.

Mary Fowler, a teacher participating in the protest, told The Oshawa Express the group is protesting a number of cuts to public services.

“I’m a teacher in the Durham Region, so the education cuts specifically affect me, people that I work with and my students,” she said.

She also said they are protesting cuts to health care, and they are concerned about the lack of information about the Bowmanville GO Train expansion, construction on which the previous Liberal government announced would start this year.

“There’s lots of parents here who are concerned about the lack of funding for their children with autism,” she added.

“We’re all very deeply concerned with the direction this government is going and the impact it will have on Ontarians generations into the future,” added Fowler.

Fowler noted Whitby MPP Lorne Coe stopped and had a conversation with some of the protestors, as did Ajax MPP Rod Phillips.

As she was going in to the meeting, a couple of protestors banged their hands on a car Durham MPP Lindsey Park was traveling in.

In an e-mail to The Oshawa Express, Park said, “People have the right to peacefully protest, unfortunately sometimes people go too far. I have to admit that it was stressful and scary to have people surround and bang on my car, but I should have handled the situation differently. I am thankful that nobody was hurt. Thankfully police were there to diffuse the situation.”

Municipal politicians spoke to their constituents, with Fowler noting Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter and Whitby Mayor Don Mitchell both stopped to converse to protestors and listen to their concerns.

“We recognize that many of the people going in there are not Conservative, they are members of the chamber,” she said. “They have children in the education system, they have elderly parents that are trying to access health care. We know that the people going into this conference are folks that need to use public services as well, and they have deep concerns, and so we’re very hopeful that when they go in there they will ask Vic Fedeli the hard questions.”

Yvonne Herdsman, a grandmother with a non-verbal autistic seven-year-old grandson, told The Express she doesn’t believe her daughter gets enough money to help with her grandson’s needs.

“He doesn’t get speech therapy, there’s not enough money, there’s not enough support and what they have now is being taken away from them, it’s being drastically reduced,” said Herdsman. “It is very sad, very immoral. I think [Premier] Doug Ford doesn’t care about these little children, and I don’t know what we’re going to do in the end.”

She said the protestors don’t want to do take these actions, but feel they have to.

“We don’t want to have to do this, we want peace, we want quiet, we want justice for children – innocent children,” Herdsman said.

Another protestor, Antonio Stravato, told The Express about his twin sons, both of whom are on the autistic spectrum, and how he has been trying to get a hold of Park to speak about the issue, but had a difficult time getting a hold of her.

He said he continued getting “the run around” and was told they would contact him about a meeting. He said he tried to speak to Park through multiple methods, such as by phone and e-mail, and eventually got a quick meeting over the phone.

He says it took a Tweet that said her “doors are always locked” for Park to call him back.