TORONTO -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford again dismissed the widespread walkouts planned this week by the province’s three largest teacher unions as a matter of union bosses forcing their beleaguered members to march against their will.

“They’re getting frustrated that the heads of their unions are forcing their teachers to walk out,” Premier Ford said in Wiarton on Sunday morning, insisting he has teachers telling him they don’t want to strike. “I have had numerous texts from teachers saying ‘I don’t want to be doing this.’”

Negotiations between Ford’s government and the unions have seen little progress since the summer, as he is asking all unions to accept larger class sizes, a hard one-percent cap on wage increases, and two mandatory e-learning courses for all secondary students.

His argument that union leadership is forcing teachers to engage in strike action flies in the face of strike votes held by all three unions, where between 95 and 98 per cent of members in each union voted in favour of strike action.

“I support the frontline teachers I think the men and women who are serving out there work their backs off, they do a great job,” Ford said. “I don’t support the heads of the unions who are causing all these problems right across the province.”

Ford said he takes his tone from what hears from the public, and said that all over Ontario, people keep telling him “don’t buckle” to the teachers, who are asking for wage increases in line with inflation.

For their part, the unions say they are acting in the interests of students and the public is behind them.

Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation (OSSTF) President Harvey Bischof said on Sunday that he is "convinced" his members want to engage in strike action, and if Ford feels they're being forced, he has things he can do to find out.

"If he believes I am the impediment to a deal, he has the right to put a vote directly to my members, to require them to vote on his offer. So let’s see if his offer of reduced course options, larger classes and mandatory e-learning are things my members are willing to accept."

The three largest teacher’s unions in the province are planning strikes that will impact some or all of the GTA’s school boards every single day this coming week:

  • On Monday Feb. 3, the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario (ETFO) will hold walkouts in seven Ontario school boards, including the Halton Region District School Board.
  • On Tuesday, Feb. 4, the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation, representing all public English high school teachers in the province, says it will hold walkouts in ten school boards, including the York Region District School Board.
  • In addition, ETFO will hold walkouts in ten boards including Durham Region District School Board, Peel Region District School Board and Upper Grand District School Board.
  • Also on Tuesday, every single Catholic elementary and secondary school in the province will shut down and all teachers will be on a one-day strike.
  • On Wednesday, ETFO members in nine boards outside the GTA will walk off the job.
  • On Thursday, every single English public elementary school in Ontario will shut down as ETFO embarks on a one-day strike.
  • On Friday, EFTO members in nine boards including Toronto District School Board, York Region District School Board and Hamilton-Wentworth will walk off the job once again.

So far, the Ford government has reached labour deals with the majority of school support staff in the province, organized into two unions representing approximately 70,000 people.

His government is also compensating parents for every full day their children's school is closed due to strike action, up to $60 per child per day.

Many parents continue to support teachers 

Many parents in the region admit the strikes and associated scrambles to find daycare are an inconvenience, but they still support the teachers in their fight.

“I think what they’re doing is reasonable, and definitely looking out for the future of our children,” Toronto mother Kerri O’Neil told CTV News Toronto.

She said she’s lucky her parents can take care of her kids during the days of action.

Toronto resident Hany Razzouk said his daughter is in Grade 1 and has already missed several days of school because of the rotating strikes.

However, he said, he understands the unions’ perspectives.

“I think they are trying to prove a good cause that they need to have fewer kids in the class. I think they are fighting for something good at the end, for the kids,” he told CTV News Toronto.

Toronto Teacher Miriam Mendoza said she is well paid, but thinks the issues beyond compensation are worth fighting for.

“I do think sizes in the school should be smaller and teachers should have more help for the students who have special needs in the classroom,” she said.