The provincial government says it has tabled a new offer to the high school teachers' union a day before a planned one-day strike across the province, but head of the union says that's not the case.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters at Queen's Park that provincial negotiators made the offer to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) on Tuesday morning.
But about an hour later, OSSTF President Harvey Bischof told CBC News: "The government came with not a single proposal, not a single piece of paper, nothing; utterly unprepared to bargain and I've honestly never seen anything like it."
Lecce did not offer any details during his announcement, but described the offer as "a new framework that we think in our estimation should keep them at the table."
Teachers plan to walk off the job on Wednesday in a bid to turn up the pressure during tense labour negotiations with the province.
No contract since August
Ontario's public high school teachers have been without a contract since August.
Some of the province's largest school boards — including the Toronto District School Board and Peel District School Board, west of Toronto — have said they will be forced to close their high schools if the job action takes place.
Bischof said he is sympathetic to parents who will be inconvenienced by the possible closure of some schools, but the
union is fighting government cuts that will impact the quality of education in the province.
"I can tell you that the long-term damage to the system, if we allow this government to continue to go down this destructive path, is far worse than a day lost to labour action," he said.
Lecce says the main issue is compensation, with the government recently passing legislation to cap annual wage increases for all public sector workers at one per cent for three years.
The union is asking for inflationary increases, which would amount to about two per cent.
Lecce: Government ready to bargain
The education minister said the government remains ready to bargain, but did not provide any further details of the new framework he says the province offered on Tuesday.
"There's a pathway to keep kids in class tomorrow," Lecce said.
"It's the government's aim to keep kids in class. Quite frankly, I think it's unacceptable unions have opted to make this decision that keeps kids out of class tomorrow ... It only frustrates parents and hurts kids from an academic perspective."
Lecce said the teachers' union is choosing to escalate the dispute and said governments of all political stripes have faced similar challenges over the past few decades.
But former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, who also once served as education minister, said the Progressive Conservatives made cuts to classrooms ahead of bargaining, hurting the government's relationship with teachers.
"It's been more than 20 years since there's been a province-wide job action by OSSTF," she said. "I think that speaks volumes. The last province-wide job action was under the [Progressive Conservative] Mike Harris government. The fact is, it's not the same. This government declared war on teachers and support staff."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she knows the potential labour disruption will affect parents who are forced to find other child-care arrangements, but she thinks overall parents are more upset with the government.
"I would hope what happens tomorrow is a signal to the government," Horwath said. "What I expect to see is parents
supporting the teachers, to be frank."
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner also said he thinks parents agree with teachers taking the job action.
"If the government would reverse their cuts then we could have a good faith negotiation around salaries," he said. "The government is trying to use compensation as a way to deflect from the real cuts to education."