Ontario teachers will be watching closely as the provincial government provides more details Thursday on the “path forward” in a lingering labour dispute, which Opposition Leader Tim Hudak says should be resolved by imposing contracts.
Education Minister Laurel Broten will hold a news conference at Queen’s Park on Thursday morning to discuss the "next steps" in the months-long dispute between the province and the remaining groups of teachers who have yet to reach agreements on contracts.
The government said it has reached agreements with tens of thousands of teachers and support staff — but has yet to strike deals with the 76,000 public elementary teachers and education professionals who staged rolling one-day strikes prior to the holidays, or the 60,000 members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF).
OSSTF president Ken Coran said Wednesday that his union will consult with its local leaders before making any decisions about how to respond to the government’s next steps — including whatever the education minister says on Thursday.
"We will fully review all of the information that we get over the next 24-hour period, and we’ll make some decisions as to how to proceed from that point," Coran told CBC's Power & Politics.
Coran would not say precisely how the union would respond if the government imposes a contract on his members.
In a letter released Wednesday, the premier reiterated the government's view of the need to reach agreements similar to the terms of contracts that have previously been laid out and said that the time for bargaining is over.
"Our preference is and always has been negotiated settlements," McGuinty said in the letter.
"But after 10 months, the bargaining deadline has passed."
The premier further said "Ontarians expect, rightly, that uncertainty in education will not continue indefinitely," though he did not explicitly outline the government's next steps.
Hudak said the government needs to use the powers it has under Bill 115, the controversial legislation passed in the fall that allows it to impose contracts and quash strikes.
"We brought a bill forward — Bill 115 — we actually supported the bill because we were told there would be no strikes, no lockouts, there would be a wage freeze and we would continue on," Hudak told reporters in Toronto on Wednesday morning.
"We owe it to our kids and our parents to fix that problem, contracts should be imposed. It has taken far too long."
NDP education critic Peter Tabuns, however, called on the government to rescind Bill 115 and "go back, approach negotiations in a very serious way, and remember that the well-being of students and families across Ontario is in the balance."
Prior to Christmas, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario had said it would not take any new strike action, as long as the government did not impose contracts under Bill 115 after Dec. 31 — the deadline the government had set for teachers and support staff to reach agreements.
The offer from the teachers' union was to stay in place until the selection of a new premier at the Ontario Liberal leadership convention later this month.
"The appointment of a new premier will provide an opportunity to take a fresh look at the current collective bargaining impasse and find respectful solutions," ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a statement released last month.
McGuinty announced last October that he was stepping down as Liberal leader. But he agreed to stay on the job until his party chose a successor.
Former education minister Kathleen Wynne is one of seven candidates vying to become the next Liberal leader.
The Don Valley West MPP told CBC News on Wednesday that if she becomes the next premier of Ontario, she plans to have "a conversation with all of our education partners" about how to move forward from the current impasse.
"My position has always been that a negotiated settlement is the right way to go," Wynne said.