Thousands rally against B.C. government

Canadian Press Saturday, May 25  Online Edition, Posted at 3:58 PM EST

Vancouver A festive demonstration against the British Columbia government drew thousands of people from all sectors to downtown Vancouver Saturday.

After a year in office, the provincial government has angered teachers and nurses who were legislated back to work with an imposed contract; upset seniors with changes to long-term care; sparked friction with doctors by withdrawing a binding arbitration award and angered lawyers over cuts to legal aid. Don Bremner, a senior who said he considers his job "fighting for everything," said he has a message for Premier Gordon Campbell: "Resign. Give us a new shot at 'em. Get rid of the cranks he's got in there."

Scores of balloons, a union float, aboriginal drummers, placards waved by union leaders, Communists and other activists made for a colorful and festive display as marchers converged and headed for a rally at a nearby beach. But the march had to be delayed by a half hour because of a poor turnout in warm, drizzling rain.

One doctor, angered over the ongoing dispute with the province, which has seen physicians cancel more than 1,000 surgeries and threaten more, said she wanted to attend to send a message. She declined to give her name. Jacqui Birchall, a high school teacher, said she disagrees with a whole list of B.C. Liberal policies. She called Mr. Campbell a fascist. "I think what he's doing is ruining our province, ruining the lives of our young people." Ken Hiebert, a longshoreman, handed out flags and buttons advocating a general strike which could "compel government to reverse their directions."

The Liberals won 77 of 79 seats in last May's election, ending 10 years of NDP power. While that overwhelming public support has eroded in opinion surveys, recent polls suggest the Liberals would likely win another majority. Respondents felt the province was worse off than a year ago but expected things to get better. Promising a "new era" of government, the Liberals announced a program to cut 12,000 public service positions over three years, closed courthouses, cut thousands of hospital and long-term care beds and has introduced changes to the Labour Code.

The government has said radical measures were necessary to deal with a budget deficit of more than $4-billion. Mr. Bremner acknowledged the government remains popular and would likely win again, "but at least we'd have some opposition, I'm damned sure of that."

Saturday's rally was the second major protest this year. A demonstration on the lawns of the legislature in Victoria on Feb. 23 drew between 20,000 and 40,000 estimates varied between police and rally organizers. Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, which co-ordinated Saturday's event, hoped turnout this time would rival the Solidarity Movement protests of 1983, when upwards of 40,000 crowded downtown Vancouver to oppose Social Credit government cutbacks.

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