Union leaders for Ontario's public elementary and high school teachers seem set on strike action and are determined not to allow local contract agreements with a real wage freeze, Education Minister Laurel Broten said Monday.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation cut off talks last week after teachers rejected local agreements with two school boards, and cancelled ratification votes for other deals, said Broten.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario is promising to give 72-hours notice before it takes strike action, but walked out of contract talks with the province nine months ago "determined to undermine any and all bargaining," she added.

"The actions by the teachers' union leadership show clearly that this was never about bargaining locally and finding solutions," said Broten.

"This has been, and will continue to be, about the refusal of union leadership -- not our teachers --  to accept a real pay freeze."

The unions have gone to court to challenge Bill 115, which freezes the wages for most while allowing younger teachers to still move up the salary grid, saying it infringes on their right to collective bargaining and has hamstrung efforts to reach fair agreements with school boards.

The bill is modelled on an agreement the province reached with unions representing Catholic teachers, which was also accepted by Francophone teachers.

The government wants teachers, nurses, civil servants and all workers in the broader public sector to accept a two-year wage freeze to help trim a deficit of nearly $15 billion, but so far has only passed legislation affecting teachers. "It's the union leaders -- not our teachers -- who refuse to accept our fiscal realities," said Broten.

"I am asking the union leadership to choose improvements for the kids over improvements for themselves."

The legislation also gives Broten the power to impose a contract and stop the strikes, something she guaranteed parents will happen if necessary.

"We will do that if and when the circumstance presents itself where that is a reality," she said.
"At this point it is a threat."

The Conservatives said the teachers were clearly ignoring the almost daily threats from Broten because the minister won't use the powers she has now to prevent strikes and put parents' minds at ease.

"Why should parents have to wait 72 hours," asked PC education critic Lisa MacLeod. "The minister of education can stop this in its tracks today, start fining union leaders and unions who violate the act immediately, and we could have all this behind us."

The New Democrats have called Bill 115 "wrong-headed" and warned it would lead to expensive court challenges that will cost taxpayers even more in the long run if the government loses.