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Nurses take aim at Ford in Nathan Phillips protest, calling wage-cap bill a ‘slap in the face’


Nurses take aim at Ford in Nathan Phillips protest, calling wage-cap bill a ‘slap in the face’

Despite rain and single-digit temperatures, dozens of Ontario nurses rallied at Nathan Phillips Square Sunday afternoon, demanding the immediate end of a provincial bill that has hobbled their wages for the last three years.

Should it remain, nursing organization leaders say they vow to fight to remove Premier Doug Ford from office come the next election.

Enacted in 2019, Bill 124, called the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, capped salary increases for a million provincial public sector workers, including nurses and teachers, at just one per cent per year.

This is well below the annual inflation rate for the province, which reached a two-decade high in September at 4.4 per cent and shows no sign of slowing.

Effectively, the bill ensures Ontario nurses receive diminishing salaries each year with inflation factored in, which many nursing organizations say is leading to a “mass exodus” of local nurses to other provinces or the United States.

“We as nurses put our lives on the line every single day on the job,” said Sarah Fung, registered nurse and co-host of the Gritty Nurse podcast, to the crowd in Nathan Phillips. “We deal with verbal abuse, we deal with physical abuse — our lives are worth more than one per cent.”

Registered nurse Birgit Umaigba said the bill has led to chronic short staffing in Ontario hospitals. With the added stressors of the pandemic, “you can only imagine how bad it’s become,” she said.

“My colleagues are leaving,” she said. “A lot of the most experienced nurses are gone. We have new grads working without support.”

Many nurses, both speakers and members of the crowd, said they will rally around voting Ford out of office in the provincial election next year.

“If Bill 124 is not gone within 30 days, Premier — and this is not a threat, I never threaten anyone, I just act on issues — this will become a voting issue for all our nurses,” said Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario CEO Doris Grinspun to a round of applause and banging pots and pans.

“That bill is a slap in the face. It’s got to go, and it’s got to go within 30 days.”

Registered nurse Nancy Halupa agreed: “If this bill isn’t repealed by then, everyone at the next protest will be holding signs saying, ‘Vote Ford out 2022.’”


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Sunday’s rally was far from the first. The past three years have seen several, as well as legal efforts from labour unions including a charter challenge to Bill 124.

Cathryn Hoy from the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) said protests like these have become vital to fighting for the rights of the nursing profession.

Under Ford, third-party organizations, such as the ONA, had their spending slashed, making it difficult to voice dissent against the government’s policies, she said.

Bill 254 silenced our 68,000 members from speaking out against what (Ford) has done in health care,” she said. “The unions went to court on that and we won — but he amended the bill and limited our spending, so you don’t have the voice that we should have come election time. That’s why these events are so important.”

Hoy encouraged everyone in the crowd to gather everyone they knew of voting age and prepare them for the upcoming election. “We need a new government,” she said.

“As I say to Ford, you may not have started it, but you finished the demise of health care,” said Hoy. “Ontario has the worst patient-to-nurse ratio in all of Canada. That’s disgusting. We all need to fight for the respect that we deserve as health care providers.”

One further criticism of Bill 124 is that it widens the gender pay gap in the province. While female-dominated public sector jobs, such as nursing and teaching, are affected, male-dominated ones, such as police and fire services, are exempt, since they are municipally funded.

Donald Sanderson, an ONA vice-president and registered nurse, said the fact the bill “predominately targets female-dominated professions” is “another smack in the face.”

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he said. “The health care system in Ontario has been on its last legs for some time.

“If Ford has done anything, it was to bring people out into the streets — and if nurses are out in the streets, you know you have a big problem.”

Sanderson closed his speech by challenging the crowd to talk to friends and neighbours about voting against Ford. “The battle is on right now,” he said.

Ben Cohen is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn

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