n energized group of thousands of Ontario nurses and supporters gathered outside the Sheraton Centre in downtown Toronto on Thursday to demand better staffing and higher wages. The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) met with the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) inside the hotel to negotiate a new contract for more than 60,000 hospital registered nurses and healthcare workers in the province.
Bernie Robinson, interim President for ONA, and Angela Preocanin, first Vice-President, spoke at the rally outside the hotel, as did Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers’ Action Centre.
Members of ONA looked down at the protest from inside the Sheraton, waving from the windows.
By 1 p.m., the crowd of nurses and supporters began their march to Queen’s Park, walking up University Ave. through what’s known as Hospital Row. The march travelled past Mount Sinai Hospital, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto General Hospital, and more. Several nurses from different hospitals came out of their workplaces to support the march. The marchers paused long enough midway to dance to Aretha Franklin’s Respect.
Led by drummers, the protesters reached Queen’s Park by 1:30 p.m. Speakers included Linda Silas, President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) President Fred Hahn and Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles.
Protesters called out “shame!” when Stiles spoke about Premier Doug Ford making efforts to privatize Ontario’s public healthcare system. “[The NDP] is the party of Tommy Douglas,” Stiles said.
Many attendees carried signs that criticized Doug Ford and Bill 124, which capped wages for some provincial public sector workers.
Ontario has the lowest nurse-to-patient ratio in the country. This results in higher workloads and more patients per nurse, affecting the quality of care they receive. Throughout the pandemic there has been an increase in nurses leaving the profession.
The ONA began bargaining with the Ontario Hospital Association in late January. If no deal is reached through the current mediation process, it will go to an arbitrator in May.