Ontario’s finance minister says there are “limits” to how much money the province can give educators in their next contract, suggesting the government will take a hard line on negotiations over salary increases.

Finance Minister Rod Phillips said the Progressive Conservative government’s objective is to hold salary increases in the education sector to just one per cent and that teachers' unions should follow in the footsteps of school support workers, who signed a tentative agreement Sunday. 

“What the CUPE deal indicated was 55,000 workers in the education sector understand that there are limits to what the people of Ontario can pay for the quality education that students deserve,” Phillips told reporters at Queen’s Park Wednesday. 

“Hopefully that message was heard by the other unions involved.”

Phillips comments echoed what unions have been hearing at the bargaining table – that the province is $360 billion in debt and that a two per cent salary increase for education workers would cost $1.5 billion over four years.

Union leaders have countered that a one per cent wage hike would represent a pay cut since the increase would not keep up with the rate of inflation. 

Several unions have indicated a willingness to walk off the job if the province takes a hard stance at the bargaining table.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce, however, said all sides can learn a lesson from last week’s last minute deal to avert a strike – which came hours before custodians, librarians, early childhood educators and teaching assisstants were to hit the picket lines. 

“Public opinion very quickly said that a strike would not be the right course of action and I think all of us course corrected,” Lecce said Wednesday.

“That’s why I think the energies that ought to be expended through this process should be at the table.”

The government expects to reach agreements with eight education sector unions in November.