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Union responsible for sign flown over Ford Fest

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MARKHAM, Ont.—A teachers' union representative claiming responsibility for an anti-Ford sign that flew over Ford Fest said he had to hire an American company because the Canadian one he approached refused to participate.

David Clegg, president of the York Region local of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, said he paid for the plane to fly over Ford Fest carrying a sign that read “Public education cannot afford Ford,” because he wanted to send a message to attendees of the annual barbecue, which was once a Ford family event but is now sponsored by the Progressive Conservative party.

Clegg said that even though this year's venue was in Markham, Ont.—a bit of a distance from downtown Toronto—he didn't want the Tory government to escape criticism.

Saturday's free-to-the-public event came as the Progressive Conservative government faced a slump in the polls and Ford's personal popularity has taken a hit in the wake of a budget that contained many cuts that proved unpopular.

“We wanted to remind people that they've attacked public education and that is going to have a huge detrimental effect on the province,” Clegg said.

The government has made major reforms to education since coming into power a year ago—including raising the average class size for both elementary and secondary schools—which teachers' unions and school boards have said will affect students' learning.

The unions and school boards have also said the changes would result in mass teacher layoffs, but the provincial government later announced a $1.6 billion fund boards could tap into to prevent teachers from losing their jobs “involuntarily.”

Instead, teaching positions will be eliminated as workers retire.

Clegg said he put a lot of thought into how to send a simple message that all Ford Fest attendees would see, calling it a “geographical challenge.”

He ultimately thought that it would be most effective to have the sign flown over the fairgrounds instead of having it by the roadway as people drove in.

He said he contacted an advertising company that ETFO has used in the past, but the company refused to make it happen.

The company, Clegg said, was worried about retribution for being involved with the signage, since one of the company's sub-contrators supports the Ford government.

But that didn't stop Clegg's determination. He said he got a company in Buffalo, N.Y., to fly the plane and sign over the border to Ontario, costing about $8,000 that came out of the union's budget for political advertising.

“It was a bit of a logistical challenge and certainly we weren't looking to be blocked with the opportunity to spend the money in Ontario. I guess we're not quite as 'Open for business' as Mr. Ford would proclaim,” Clegg joked, referencing one of Ford's signature slogans.

Clegg said the message was worth every dollar and believes it “balanced” the premier's speech.

The sign circled overhead as Ford took the stage and told supporters that his government had accomplished more in its first year in office than any government in Ontario history.

Clegg said the union has received an overwhelmingly positive response to the sign and he plans on coming up with other “unconventional” political displays in the future.

“We were looking to send a message and I think we successfully did that.”

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