Ontario's Treasury Board president is telling teachers unions the government will see them in court.
Four unions are launching a court challenge against the Ford government's Bill 124, saying it restricts their Charter right to collective bargaining.
The bill, "Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act," will limit salary increases for most public-sector workers to just one per cent each year for the next three years. The bill passed in November.
Treasury Board President Peter Bethanfalvy told reporters in Toronto it was the opinion of his government the bill was fair, reasonable, and constitutional. He also stressed the cap on wage increases is time-limited, calling it "an appropriate measure and people tell me as much."
The unions claim the bill, passed during negotiations with the province, is a direct attack on free collective bargaining in the education sector. They said it violates two sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the duty of the Crown to bargain in good faith.
"The Charter exists to protect the rights of Canadians, even when those rights are not convenient for governments," said the president of the Association des enseignantes et de enseignants franco-ontariens, Remi Sabourin.
Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond called on the government to repeal the bill immediately.
"No employer should be permitted to undermine employees' fundamental rights without facing the strongest possible challenge," he said.
At the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, President Harvey Bischof said the bill is not justified.
"There is no current economic or fiscal crisis that requires such an extraordinary interference," he said.
However, Bethanfalvy told reporters in Toronto his government was elected to bring Ontario's finances into order.
"The province now owes nearly $360 billion. That debt costs us nearly $13 billion a year in the form of interest payments," he said. "Any attempt to improve the province's finances must include public-sector compensation because this represents roughly half of all provincial expenditures."
Reporters asked Bethanfalvy if his government loses in court, whether it would consider using the not-withstanding clause. Bethanfalvy responded it was not what the government was looking at now, but he refused to rule it out.