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Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution

Mike Harris was premier of Ontario from 1995 to 2002. Prior to the election, he introduced the ‘Common Sense Revolution’, a platform that promised tax cuts and a solution to the deficit. He also pledged to cut funding to social programs, reduce the number of MPPs, deregulate university tuition, and weaken unions with new labour laws. Although he wasn’t favoured in the polls, Harris and the Progressive Conservatives won 82 seats and 44.8% of the vote in 1995 (Bradburn, 2018).

During his time in office, Harris began to implement the Common Sense Revolution. He cut funding to health care and closed hospitals. He introduced Bill 160, which allowed the provincial government to impose school taxes, decide funding, dictate class sizes, and hire non-certified teachers (“Why Ontario teachers went on a province-wide strike in 1997”, 2020). He also cut social assistance by 21.6% (Kennedy, 2020). His minister David Tsubouchi came up with a shopping list that came to be known as the ‘welfare diet’. It was meant to show that it was possible to stay within a $90 a month limit for groceries. This list did not include salt, butter, sauce, or condiments of any kind.

In response to Harris’s Common Sense Revolution, labour unions, activist’s groups, and community organizations planned protests and political strikes, known as the Days of Action. There was a total of eleven Days of Action between 1995 and 1998 across Ontario.

Bye Bye Mike, Ottawa 1998 button

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On October 17, 1998, thousands of people gathered outside the Ottawa Congress Centre to protest Mike Harris’s austerity measures. It was organized by the Ottawa and District Labour Council and the Ontario Federation of Labour, as well as other organizations. The protestors called for an election and “an end to the Harris government” (Gollom, 1998, para. 3).

Those who gathered shared the same sentiment against the premier. They were against cuts made to essential services like health care, social programs, and education. Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, shared this message about the solidarity between different facets of the labour movement against Harris: “Our message here […] has to be that, in spite of some differences in the labour movement […] we are not of one mind. But one thing we are of one mind – one thing we are determined and united on – that’s to defeat Mike Harris government in the next election” (Gollom, 1998, para. 7).

This button is meant to raise awareness about the protest as well as show dissent against Mike Harris with the message: “Adieu Mike, Bye Bye Mike”. It was made, according to the text in the fold with volunteer labour by the Ottawa and District Labour Council and Community Partners.

OPSEU Harris Has To Go button

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Mike Harris’s cuts to public services threatened the jobs of 13,000 public sector employees across Ontario (Bergman & Fennell, 1996). Coming to the end of a bargaining agreement, the OPSEU was posed for a strike. On February 25, 1996, Ontario Public Service workers joined the picket lines, making it the first strike in their history. OPSEU members protested the Harris government’s cuts and layoffs. On March 18, 1996, a demonstration at Queen’s Park turned violent. Some strikers were injured when Ontario Provincial Police officers, wearing riot gear, attacked the protestors with batons (Rankin, 2016). The strike lasted for five weeks before an agreement was reached and they returned to work on April 1.

This button shares the anti-Harris sentiment of many other union buttons from the time. It was manufactured by Cavan Advertising, an advertising company that has been selling buttons and other promotional products since 1985. The button is union made with an Allied Printing Trades Council label.

Writers Against Mike Harris button

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This button is likely from the Days of Action protests. Literary circles were also affected by Mike Harris’s cuts when the publishing industry took a hit. Coach House Press declared bankruptcy in 1996 after their annual funding was cut by 74% (MacDonald, 1996). Larger publishing firms put books about Canada on hold in favour of books that appealed to an international market (MacDonald, 1996). These cuts and their aftermath had a major impact on Canadian writers.

There is an illegible label in the fold of the button.

Mike Harris