Ontario’s Liberal government is making its case to a provincial labour tribunal Thursday in a bid to block public elementary teachers from staging a one-day political protest that is forcing school boards to close hundreds of schools.

As the government seeks a cease and desist order, elementary teachers across Ontario are planning to walk off the job as part of a mass protest Friday, while high school teachers are planning to hold their day of action Wednesday.

The teachers are planning the demonstrations as a way to protest the province’s decision to impose new collective agreements under Bill 115. Premier Dalton McGuinty says the walkouts are illegal.

Because of the planned protest by elementary teachers, all of the Toronto District School Board's elementary and junior high schools will be closed Friday, meaning parents are making child care arrangements for thousands of students.

As a result of the closures, there will be no school crossing guards at any of the TDSB elementary and junior high school designated crossing areas, police warned motorists.

Public elementary schools will also be closed in Durham, Peel and York regions on Friday.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday's hearing with the Ontario Labour Relations Board addresses the planned protest by elementary teachers, and the government will seek a second hearing to try to block the high school teachers' planned protest.

He said the unions should settle the dispute in the courtroom, not in the classroom.

McGuinty questioned the unity of the teachers, suggesting some of them do not agree with the proposed walkouts.

“My sense is that most teachers want to be in the classroom and they want to be participating in extracurricular activities, as well,” McGuinty told reporters. “I mean, that’s why they got into teaching in the first place. I think they want to get this behind us. I think they want to move forward.”

McGuinty then made a direct appeal to teachers, urging them to break ranks and reject their unions’ protest plans.

“They are truly committed professionals. They understand that teaching is a very high calling,” McGuinty said. “I would ask them to live up to their professional and ethical responsibilities, (and) do what they want to do in their heart of hearts. They want to teach, they want to give their all to students.”

Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, told CP24 that his union is urging its members to picket the offices of Liberal and Progressive Conservative MPPs, and local school boards during Wednesday's protest.

“Our members will be urged to not report to work," said Coran, whose union represents high school teachers and support staff in English public, Catholic, French Catholic and French public elementary and secondary schools.

By imposing the contracts, the government violated established past practices and the teachers' democratic rights, Coran said.

“Our members are extremely upset about having their democratic rights removed and not being able to ratify a contract,” Coran said. “The idea (of the protest) is for the public to understand what the problem is and make sure it never, ever happens again with any political leader with any political party.”

McGuinty says the walkouts are illegal because the teachers are no longer in a legal strike position after his government imposed new contracts under Bill 115.

But the unions that represent public elementary and high school teachers say the one-day protests are not strikes and their demonstrations are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Thursday's Ontario Labour Relations Board hearing is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. A decision is expected later in the day.

“We will be making the case for a quick decision to give certainty to parents and students,” said Paris Meilleur, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Laurel Broten, in an email.

If the Ontario Labour Relations Board sides with the government instead of the OSSTF, Coran said his union will meet to decide whether to proceed with its protest.

Teachers who don’t show up for work face fines of $2,500 per day under provincial labour laws.

“If there are fines that could likely be imposed, that will also have a bearing on the decision," Coran told CP24 commentator Stephen LeDrew.

Unions representing school teachers and support workers have launched a legal challenge against Bill 115, and the matter remains before the courts.

McGuinty, who has characterized the labour dispute as a disagreement over pay, said his cash-strapped government cannot afford a pay increase for school teachers and support staff.

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