TORONTO, Ont. – Premier Dalton McGuinty said the provincial government is going to the Ontario Labour Relations Board in an effort to stop Friday’s planned protest by the province’s public elementary teachers.

The government will apply for a cease-and-desist order from the board in an effort to avert a strike that would close primary schools across the province.

McGuinty is calling the planned walkout by thousands of public elementary teachers to protest their controversial new contracts an “illegal strike.”

He said the teachers are no longer in a legal strike position now that the cash-strapped province has imposed new two-year collective agreements.

“To withdraw your services from our schools and your students is illegal,” McGuinty said in a news conference Wednesday. “If you feel your dissatisfaction has not been heard, I assure you it has.”

“But let’s agree to have this matter settled in court and not in our schools,” McGuinty added. “Let’s leave our students out of it.”

However, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario insists it’s not a strike, but a one-day political protest that’s protected under the Charter of Rights and
Freedoms.

“This has nothing to do with revenge or anger,” said ETFO president Sam Hammond. This has to do with principled positions in terms of democracy in this province and in this country.”

The Liberals argue that it’s an illegal strike under Bill 115, the controversial anti-strike law that gave them the power to impose the two-year collective agreements on teachers.

McGuinty wouldn’t say whether the government would go after teachers who walk off the job in court and said they could protest before or after school, on the weekend, or on a statutory holiday.

Meanwhile, high school teachers announced late Wednesday they will hold a day of political protest for Jan. 16 if the government has not repealed Bill 115, rescinded the imposed contracts and restored free collective bargaining.

“It is regrettable that the provincial government has chosen to continue down this path and not respect the rights of education workers,” Ken Coran, the union’s president, said in a release.

Under Ontario’s labour laws, engaging in illegal strike activity can carry a penalty of up to $2,000 per person and $25,000 for a trade union.

Education Minister Laurel Broten imposed collective agreements Jan. 3 on 126,000 public school teachers and education workers, which cut their benefits and froze most of their wages to battle the province’s $14.4-billion deficit.

She promised to repeal the law, which four unions are challenging in court — by the end of the month. But Hammond said it’s an empty gesture when she’s already used it to trample on teachers’ rights.

The protest is what his 76,000 members want, Hammond said. The union can’t fine any of its members if they don’t participate, because it’s a protest, not a strike.