THUNDER BAY – The turnout wasn’t as high as had been hoped for, but that didn’t stop a group of Superior Collegiate teens from demanding Premier Doug Ford put an end to education cuts in Ontario.
About 16 students showed up on Thursday afternoon to protest in front of Liberal MPP Michael Gravelle’s office.
Ben Fedoruk, who organized the walk-out, said students are not going to take the cuts laying down and held the protest to ensure the message doesn’t get lost.
And, with a federal election four days away, they also wanted potential members of Parliament to know they also expect support in the House of Commons.
Fedoruk said most of Ford’s cuts are coming into effect on Nov. 1, giving them two weeks to try to convince the province to walk back their education plan.
He said he’s most worried about cuts to sciences.
“Each school is supposed to pick one science. That’s going to make it extremely difficult for students to get to university. It’s going to make pursuing any path of education extremely difficult for students, especially those travelling abroad,” he said.
“It almost feels like the government is setting its priorities other than education. It sounds like the future of our country is being suppressed and it’s not going to meet its full potential.”
Fellow Superior Collegiate student Keira Essex said she’s concerned about a multitude of cuts, especially those affecting Indigenous studies.
“It’s honestly been just a tragedy,” the 16-year old Grade 11 students said, bullhorn at her side.
“We really need our education. We need people to be aware of what has happened in history and what’s happening in the world today.”
She’s fearful the cuts will lead to the loss of a number of programs, including the arts. The province has already indicated larger classrooms will lead to the need for 10,000 fewer teachers across Ontario.
“The Indigenous education is the main part for me,” Essex said. “I’ve learned so much about my own family history and my culture from school. So the fact that’s being taken out is awful. Kids need to know that stuff. It helped me find my own identify. It helps me understand how my family got where it is, where we came from.”
The damage could be irreparable she said, also mourning the loss of a more well-rounded education for future generations to come.
Gravelle met with protestors and promised to deliver the message loud and clear to Queen’s Park.
He added the walk-out was inspiring.
“There’s no question they’re already having significant cuts to the system, which are affecting them right now. But also the plans to increase class sizes from 22 to 28 and the plan to eliminate thousands of teachers from the system all scare the heck out of them because they want a quality education system,” Gravelle said.
“I applaud them coming to my office and certainly will be heading back into the legislature soon and I’m looking forward to speaking there about what the students have told me here today and what they tell me every day when I talk to them.”
Gravelle said while the Conservatives do have a majority and can set policy as they please, they have also backed down in other areas when the public protest voice got too loud.
He’s hopeful it happens again.
“I think the only way to make sure they hear it is to make sure the message comes across loud and clear as it is today in front of my office. I’m optimistic about that.”
A south-side protest was scheduled in front of NDP MPP Judith Monteith-Farrell’s office, but no students showed up.
Ford is expected to be in Thunder Bay on Friday.