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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks at a press conference at the Ontario legislature on Sept 7 2016. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks at a press conference at the Ontario legislature on Sept 7 2016. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Talks break down between Ontario, public high-school teachers’ union Add to ...

Talks between the Ontario government and its public high-school teachers’ union to extend the current contract have broken off, leaving Premier Kathleen Wynne’s party to negotiate one of its most contentious labour deals as it plans its path to an election.

An internal memo sent to teachers and support staff on Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, indicated that both sides met earlier this week and no agreement was reached. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation does not expect talks to resume, according to the memo.

The failed contract extension talks spell more bad news for Ms. Wynne’s scandal-plagued government in the long run-up to the election. The last round of negotiations were difficult, as the OSSTF unleashed strikes at various school boards; it is not expected to be any easier when contracts for all education workers expire next fall.

Read more: Ontario quietly asks public high-school teachers’ union to extend contract

The Globe recently revealed that the Liberals had quietly approached the OSSTF about a contract extension, which would have involved opening up the treasury so that teachers do not strike before the vote expected in the spring of 2018.

The Globe learned that the OSSTF was asking the Liberal government for as much as a four per cent wage increase for a one-year contract rollover. A source with knowledge of the discussions said the Liberals had requested a two-year extension.

Paul Elliott, president of the OSSTF, declined to comment on the failed discussions Thursday.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said in a statement that the government is still open to discussions with OSSTF and other unions.

“While our exploratory conversations with OSSTF did not result in an agreement, the discussions were productive,” Ms. Hunter said.

Only after The Globe revealed the government was in discussions with the OSSTF did the Liberals confirm that they had offered contract extensions to all unions that were part of a lawsuit against the province over Bill 115, a 2012 piece of legislation that imposed contracts on education workers and suspended their right to strike.

The OSSTF, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, among others, won a court ruling earlier this year deeming Bill 115 unconstitutional. The unions were discussing compensation with the province; the contract extension was an option the government put on the table.

The province was even willing to consider rewriting the law that governs bargaining to extend the contract.

The school boards’ collective bargaining legislation does not allow contracts to be extended. Ms. Hunter previously said that the parties were talking about potential changes to the legislation.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association was not part of the lawsuit, but its president, Ann Hawkins, said in a statement that her union has been invited by the government to discuss a contract extension. A meeting is scheduled for early next week.

OSSTF told its members in the memo on Thursday that discussions with the government regarding a remedy for Bill 115 had also failed and the union would be preparing to return to the courts.

A spokeswoman for ETFO declined to comment on the discussions with the government, saying they remain confidential.

The current agreement, reached last August, ended a tough series of negotiations, during which the OSSTF held strikes at school boards in the Toronto area and Northern Ontario, and the government legislated teachers back to work.

Wrestling a deficit, the province insisted all labour deals be “net zero,” meaning something must be cut to offset the cost of raises.

But Ms. Wynne recently said she is ready to loosen the purse strings for the next round of talks with public-sector unions.

The Liberals need to keep a strong relationship with teachers’ unions, in part because teachers are key members of the party’s political base and in part because no labour dispute draws more attention than those involving schools.

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Update: The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario told members in a memo on Friday, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, that the decision by OSSTF to end discussions with the government had no impact on its talks.

“There is no reason for ETFO to close the door on any discussions with the government based on the decisions made by another union,” the memo stated.

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