Thousands of unionized municipal employees took to the streets of Montreal on Saturday in the largest protest yet against the Quebec government’s proposed pension reform legislation, Bill 3.
The provincial government is currently grappling with a nearly US$4 billion pension deficit, and says workers need to bear some of the burden.
Public workers ranging from firefighters to bus drivers have responded with weeks of protests. Some public workers have been showing up to work in casual clothes.
According to Canada’s National Post, Montreal’s police have adopted among the most colorful expressions of frustration – replacing their standard issue pants with novelty attire like clown pants.
As the dispute was heating up in June, union spokesperson Marc Ranger accused the government of backpedaling from a negotiated agreement.
“This is not a bill, it’s a declaration of war,” Ranger stated on behalf of the Coalition Pour la Libre Negotiation. The organization called Saturday’s protest, which comes on the heels of negotiations before the Labor Relations Board on Friday.
Under Bill 3, municipal governments will pay half the debt, while the other half will be taken from worker pensions. The government says without the bill, it wont fulfill an electoral promise of eliminating the budget deficit by 2016. Speaking to CBC, Ranger said the protests are putting a “human face” on the price of austerity.
“We’re not from another planet, we are citizens,” he stated.