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Canadians protest harsh 'revolution'

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

About 150,000 people marched through the streets of Toronto Oct. 26 in protest against Conservative Premier Mike Harris' harsh agenda. This "Common Sense Revolution," a Canadian version of Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America," has enacted significant cuts in health care, education, the arts, welfare and massive civil service layoffs.

The weekend protest, billed as the Metro Days of Action, was led by labor unions and a wide cross-section of interfaith religious groups, antipoverty coalitions, teachers, parents, social justice networks and child care workers. These groups have repeatedly attacked the Ontario government's attempt to erase its $9 billion deficit while at the same time granting a Reagan-style across-the-board tax cut of 30 percent.

"People from different walks of life were there for a common purpose," said a jubilant Floyd Howlett, cochair of the Peterborough Coalition for Social Justice in Ontario. "It's the vulnerable people the (government) attacked first, and most of all," Howlett went on. "They haven't done anything to get some of the deferred taxes from the corporations, where the big money is. They haven't gone after corporate welfare fraud. ... They've gone after the little people."

"It was a fantastic day," said Anne-Marie Jackson, member of a Catholic peace and justice group. Margaret Bennett shared the excitement. A single parent of two and on social assistance, she had helped launch an antipoverty coalition in September 1995. A year ago, her monthly social assistance check had been slashed by 22 percent. "I have increased my understanding of the political part of this and why we vote," Bennett said. "A lot of low-income people say it doesn't matter whether I vote or not. They don't think about the long-range effects of what happens here."

On the previous day, the protesters had staged a "Day of Withdrawal," which had all the trappings of a general strike. Although stores and businesses remained open, the Toronto public transit system was shut down.

As the government prepares another round of cuts in November, labor officials and social activists are committed to speaking out, and there is talk of a general strike.

The Harris regime, whose campaign was engineered by Mike Murphy, who worked for Oliver North's 1994 senate campaign, has more than three years of its term left.

National Catholic Reporter, November 8, 1996