Ontario's Progressive Conservatives are urging the provincial government to impose new contracts on teachers before students head back to school next week.
Opposition leader Tim Hudak says the governing Liberals aren't using the power they have under the controversial Bill 115 to stop disruption in public schools, which has caused elementary school teachers to stage rotating one-day strikes in protest last month.
"I still can't believe kids will be going back to school next week and not even know if there'll be more strikes," said Hudak, MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook.
"Who is running the education system? Is it the government running things as it should be, or is it the teachers' unions?"
Hudak says contracts should be imposed now, as the Liberals owe it to parents to take action before students head back to class.
"I can't say I'm surprised by that," said Chantal Mancini, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) district 21 teachers bargaining unit.
"Hudak's never hidden his agenda, I'll give him that."
The next steps
Education Minister Laurel Broten has said that she has the option to impose new contracts on teachers under Bill 115, which also gives the government the power to stop strikes and lockouts.
Broten is scheduled to 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.
Mancini calls the imposition of Bill 115 "unprecedented."
"It has had a serious impact on the goodwill of teachers and education workers," she said. "When the government doesn't appreciate what you do, it's really demoralizing."
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.
Elementary school teachers walked out of class in Hamilton on Dec. 17 in protest of the new law, which gives the provincial government the power to stop strikes and impose new contracts on staff.
So far the government has held off, but the unions have warned that there will be more disruption if the Liberals impose new contracts.
'The bargaining deadline has passed': McGuinty
In a letter released Wednesday, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty 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.