Anti-poverty and labour organizers say they’re concerned about what the Ontario government’s 2019 budget means for Hamilton’s low-income residents.
Protesters from ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and the Hamilton and District Labour Council marched in front of the Scottish Rite on Friday morning, where the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce was hosting a breakfast event for Ontario Treasury Board president Peter Bethlenfalvy.
ACORN member Chantel Potter says the group is concerned because the budget failed to mention poverty.
“Some of the low- and moderate-income families were hoping for some more affordability,” said Potter. “We’re seeing more and more cuts. It’s already difficult as it is, and things are getting even harder.”
She said she wants to see the government focus on support services for those with drug and alcohol addiction instead of prioritizing making alcohol more accessible.
“I thought I was watching a movie yesterday when I was watching the news. It was disturbing; it was disgusting,” Potter said.
Anthony Marco, president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council, said the rally was planned in stark contrast to the Chamber of Commerce breakfast being held just metres away.
“I find it highly hypocritical that you’ve got a minister in there who essentially talks about being a government for the people, and we’ve got people out here who can’t afford their rent — and they’re spending $55 on breakfast in there,” he said.
Marco was highly critical of the Progressive Conservative government’s budget, saying it contains cuts that will be felt deeply by Hamilton’s working-class residents.
“You have a scenario whereby they’re trying to budget on cuts. There are two ways to balance the budget: you can either make cuts or you can raise revenues. And what they refuse to do is raise revenues through big corporations. If they’re going to raise revenues, they’re going to do it on the backs of working-class people instead of doing it on corporations,” he said.
Speaking to media following the breakfast event, Bethlenfalvy denied that the budget contains any cuts.
“There are no cuts. What there are is programs to support the most needy people in Ontario,” said Bethlenfalvy. “This budget is full of supports for those most vulnerable. Any sort of dollars that we’re taking out are efficiencies in terms of back-office administration. They’re not going to impact front-line workers and certainly aren’t going to impact those recipients.”
Bethlenfalvy highlighted the Ontario Childcare Access and Relief from Expenses (CARE) tax credit, free dental care for seniors and a $3.8-billion investment in mental health, addictions and housing over 10 years.
He added that the PC government is engaging in public consultation and said it welcomes feedback from protesters.
“We’re going into communities, listening to all stakeholders, to families, to individuals because that’s the best way to make the best decisions — when you listen to the diversity of opinions,” Bethlenfalvy said.
WATCH: Global News coverage of Ontario’s 2019 budget
However, Marco challenged the government’s claim that it’s open to public consultations.
“If working-class people are gathered outside here today with flags and noisemakers and protesting this, how can your government say it’s for the people?” he said.
Marco added that the groups will continue to hold protests to call attention to the need for funding for social programs, saying the “bigger the cuts are, the more people are mobilized.”
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