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THOUSANDS IN TORONTO MARCH, RALLY AGAINST EXTENSIVE ONTARIO BUDGET CUTS

Canadian civility ruled Saturday at the Days of Action, as tens of thousands of people -- angry at deep budget cuts by the province's Progressive Conservative Party government -- paraded in midtown with placards, flags and chants.

Metal barricades lined parts of the march area as demonstrators passed in front of the Metro Toronto Convention Center, where their target -- Ontario Premier Mike Harris -- was attending a party policy meeting.

Demonstrators are outraged at Harris' plan to cut spending by the equivalent of $5.9 billion in U.S. dollars to wipe out a big budget deficit by the turn of the century.

Dubbed "Newt of the North," in reference to U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., Harris came to power last year on the promise of a right-wing revolution in Canada's most populous province.

His government has revamped labor laws, slashed welfare payments and required recipients to work. It also has announced plans to close hospitals and cut education spending.

Organized by major labor unions, Saturday's demonstration followed mass picketing Friday that shut down the transit system and disrupted businesses, government offices and factories. Transit service was back to normal Saturday.

"Shame! Shame!" marchers cried as they passed the locked doors and curtained windows of the convention center. While a couple of dozen masked men dressed in black began rocking the barriers in defiance of nearby police, march organizers quelled that demonstration within 15 minutes.

Preliminary police and media estimates put the number of marchers Saturday at 50,000 to 70,000 people, with the crowd swelling to about 100,000 for an afternoon rally outside the Ontario Legislature. Organizers had expected at least 200,000 to turn out.

Despite occasional pushing and shoving -- and one report of a journalist being punched by one of the unidentified masked men -- the throng moved peacefully up University Avenue. Some sang protest songs; some men raised fists and yelled obscenities.

Looking over the crowd, Gord Wilson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labor, said, "Harris has done what no other politician in Ontario has been able to do -- polarize Ontario."

Bill Adonia, a member of the Steelworkers Union from Hamilton, said the march was designed "to get the message out that Mike Harris has to be stopped any way possible. And if he doesn't get the message from this march, then I say we should have a province-wide shut down as the next step."

"This will send a message to Mike Harris that political change is coming in this province," said Syd Ryan president of the Ontario wing of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. "He's going to see more polarization, more action on the street. We're fighting back. We're not taking the so-called Common Sense Revolution lying down."

Many protesters aimed their anger at how cuts have been made, rather than the need to cut.

"Ontario has the best education system in the world, and a lot of good teachers are being cut. Harris should look in other areas to cut instead of teachers," said teacher Mary McDonagh.

When demonstrators converged on the lawns of the Ontario Legislature, local singers, union leaders and social activists spoke to the crowd about their mission.

"These cuts are part of a global phenomena, and Ontario is as good a place to stop it as any," singer Bruce Cockburn said.

"This is not a narrow labor rally," added Bob White, president of the Canadian Labor Congress. "This is social solidarity."

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