A distinct feeling of déj à vu resonates at the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty event this hot-and-cold Tuesday (October 5) afternoon, a meeting and meal in Allan Gardens preceding a march to Queen's Park.
The event is the public follow-up to a more covert action four days earlier in which OCAP members walked out of a "high-end grocery store" with loads of foodstuffs and toiletries that were then distributed to residents of poor communities in the east end.
OCAP held the rally to deliver the bill for the ripped-off relief to the provincial government. The tally was an estimated $3,525 and included choice nourishment ($600 worth of spare ribs alone) as well as hundreds of diapers and baby wipes.
"It wasn't another shopping trip where you said, 'My cart is near empty, how am I going to make this last?'" says OCAP organizer Stephanie Gude to the crowd. "This was a trip where we took what people needed and what people wanted, and it felt great."
Gude notes that while the recent 3 per cent increase to social assistance "is starting to trickle down," it's cold comfort for those who fit the recipient profile. After paying rent and utilities, she says, a family on assistance will have an average of 50 cents a day to spend on food.
Most of the crowd leave to stroll over to Queen's Park. That basic plan had been the same on a sunny day in June four years ago, but this gathering feels less like a recreation of what would become the infamous "Queen's Park Riot" than a small tour group retracing its steps. Ten or so bicycle cops follow - on the other side of the street, thanks to construction on the Carlton streetcar tracks, evoking the amusing possibility of an officer wanting to intervene.
Of course, there's no need, and the scene must look strange to passersby. Does every group of 20 subdued people chatting and crossing with the signals get a 10-officer escort? No, silly - just groups with opinions.
The first attempt at provincial ingress, through the legislature's eastern entrance, is rebuffed by an underhanded tactic known as "closing the door," whereby a door is closed and not opened. Rowdy knocks produce nothing, though maybe, unknown to us, an aide is running to Dalton McGuinty's office. "Mr. Premier, there's a mob here to see you."
The locked door says something about a provincial government that bars the legislature to everyone simply because a handful of people would like to talk about poverty.
A couple of turned corners later, we're met by a grey suit, the man inside it telling us (I'm paraphrasing here) to go home. OCAP's John Clarke tries to convince him to bring a letter to McGuinty's office - something one used to be able to do on one's own - but the suit insists that all letters now go through the mail room, which may or may not be beside the paper shredder room.
At the second-to-last entrance, security guards don't get there in time - strange, considering it's across the hall from the first one - and a few demonstrators are already halfway inside. A tug-of-war ends when a wiry officer wades in and slams the door with a body check. He must play rugby. I realize that I'm still not sure what crime is being committed here.
By the time we amble back to the front of the building, barricades are up staffed by numerous officers to deny access to the main doors. The barricades are fastened to metal clasps that have been set in the pavement. Inaccessibility is now part of the blueprint. Nifty.
Someone calls to the group. It's yet another man in a suit, but this suit has more than one colour, which means one thing: New Democrat spokesperson Jeff Ferrier, who agrees to take the letter in. When a distressed woman in the group asks if he's going to do anything about all the people going hungry, he says, "Howard Hampton is going to work hard to hold the Liberals to their promises." Which would be a good idea if they had actually made any.