I had all NDP MPPs involved – Marilyn Churley, Frances Lankin in Toronto, Shelley Martel in Sudbury, David Christopherson in Hamilton, and so on. Our crack NDP health researcher, Marit Stiles, now a director with ACTRA, did her trademark networking to draw the broader community to our event.
The mid-morning kickoff took place at Bay and Wellesley in Toronto and at seven other Ontario centres. Martel’s event, artfully planned, regrettably in a flash was wiped out by a mini-hurricane that ripped her tent apart and sent the chair flying across the road.
Other than that, fantastic press – a front page for Christopherson in The Hamilton Spectator sitting in his rocking chair, and generous coverage province-wide. To his credit, Christopherson spent a full 24 hours camping out in his protest chair (or so the story goes).
Tony Clement was Conservative Premier Mike Harris’s health minister back then, proposing to hike nursing home fees by 15 per cent.
My vision for the Rocking Chair Protest played out perfectly. Politicians, concerned citizens and people involved in the field, assembled by Marit, took turns sitting in an oversized rocking chair on the sidewalk, commenting for the media scribes, television cameras and microphones.
On a public sidewalk, I kicked the whole thing off playing “We Will Rock You” on my trombone, interspersed with a rally cry of “Stop the Fee Increase!” Meanwhile, eager NDP staffers gathered signatures for petitions from sidewalk passersby. Although the Conservatives didn’t stop the fee hike altogether, the Ontario-wide exposure for the issue caused them to reduce it enough for this particular media stunt to be considered an absolute win. A significant reversal within 24 hours.
The greatest compliment a media strategist can receive is when people replicate her ideas and run with them, not just a year later, but 10 or 15! About five years ago, CUPE Ontario staged a similar rocking chair protest, which a friend drew to my attention. And now the health coalition is trotting out the giant rocker once again.
Good ideas withstand the test of time. Unfortunately, the high cost of long-term care continues to make this type of creative advocacy ever necessary.