1995: Students march on Confederation Building

Protesting proposed changes to education…

Students march on Confederation Building

By MUSE STAFF

The much awaited National Day of Student Strike in protest of Lloyd Axworthy’s proposed social reforms began as hundreds of students crowded the gym at Memorial University’s (MUN) Thomson Student Centre (TSC). Eventually the crowd numbered in the thousands as students from MUN, Cabot College, the Marine Institute and other institutions filled the entire gymnasium and all three floors of the TSC. The rally began around noon on Wednesday, January 25, with Paul Thornhill, Vice President Internal of the Council of the Students’ Union (CSU) spurring the demonstrators on with strains of Aretha Franklin playing in the background. “We’re telling the government of this country to reconsider your priorities,” said Thornhill. “Rethink your programs, an education in Newfoundland is a priority.” ‘Today you’re joining with over 450,000 post secondary students,” said Craig Adams, National Executive Member of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), “and we’re kicking it off here in St. John’s, Newfoundland with the biggest show of support that I’ve ever seen in my life.” Representatives from the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, the Young Liberals, CSU, the New Democratic Party of Newfoundland and the Progressive Conservative party of Newfoundland were on hand to show support for the demonstration. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about where the students stand on this issue,” said Jack Harris, MHA for St. John’s East. “Having access to post secondary education is our opportunity for ourselves, for our families, for our children to overcome many obstacles.” Greg Malone, leader of the activist group Power for the People was also in attendance. “The people who are making these decisions for you have had their educations paid for to the tune of 80 percent,” said Malone. “Now they’re looking over their shoulders at you and are planning to cut the bridge that brought them across over to their future.” Provincial Conservative party leadership candidate Layola Sullivan remarked that about 4000-5000 students would be shut out of post secondary institutions if the proposed changes were enacted. “What galls me is that Premier Wells is encouraging the federal government to make these cuts.”

The initial rally wound up at about 1:00 pm with the protesting students moving outdoors to begin stage two of the demonstration, a march en masse to the office of Bonnie Hickey, Liberal member of Parliament for St. John’s East. Approximately 4500 marchers stormed the Prince Philip Parkway walking into oncoming traffic. Traffic was halted as they proceeded ahead of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC), so protestors changed lanes occupying both sides of the highway. Traffic was slowed for a considerable amount of time leading to a warning from the RNC. According to Darrell Hynes, V.P. Academic of the CSU, the RNC had said that the protest was “out of control.” Upon arriving at Hickey’s office, protesters were told that she was not there, nor could she be reached by phone at her office in Ottawa. A press release was issued by her office regarding the concerns of the protestors. “The government released a discussion paper to get input and ideas from Canadians on proposals to reform our social security system,” said Hickey. “The students who have gathered for today’s rally have been involved in the broad based consultations from the beginning. They want to ensure that their voice has been heard, and I can assure them that it has been.” Continuous chants of “Axe the Ax,” “Shame,” “No more Cuts,” “Hey Ho the Ax Got to Go,” and “Enough is Enough” could be heard outside the office. The rally moved onward to the Confederation Building where students continued to express their view on the discussion paper and Axworthy’s proposed cuts. Spirits continued to run high even as numbers dwindled with the poor weather conditions to about 2000 according to Adams. Winston Baker, Director of Treasury, spoke privately with The Muse about his concerns for the students and the proposed actions that Axworthy may take. He suggested the possibility that any change that Axworthy may make with regards to social programs would be compensated through increased taxes. After much anticipation Chris Decker, Minister of Education, appeared on the steps of the Confederation Building to announce that along with ministers from the Atlantic provinces he will be meeting with Axworthy next Monday to state that in no uncertain terms they are not in favour of the proposed After spending hours in the snow the demonstrators began to disperse at about 3:00 pm. Final estimates of the size of the demonstration placed between 4500 and 5000 students participating.

Written by Michael Connors and Lynn Thomas with files from Gabriella Fisher, Kyna O’Neill, Lorie Keating and Duleepa Wijayawardhana.
Photos by Peter Galgay.

Number of students protesting in major Canadian cities on Jan 25th:

St.John’s – 5000 rallied and marched in protest
Halifax – 1500 marched in protest
Fredricton – 50 to 100 manned picket lines
Montreal – 10 000 to 15 000 picketed and marched
Toronto -10 000 to 15 000 marched to the mayor’s residence
Ottawa – 1000 to 2000 marched on Parliament Hill
Hamilton – 1500 protested
Winnipeg – 3500 marched and picketed
Edmonton – 250 to 300 rallied
Regina – 700+ attended picket lines
Victoria – 5000 gathered in a rally
Vancouver – 1500 to 2000 rallied in the downtown area
(Compiled with the help of Canadian University Press.)

Originally published in The Muse on January 27, 1995.

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