Ontario's government tabled legislation Tuesday to declare the Toronto Transit Commission an essential service, which would strip transit union workers of the right to legally strike.

Labour Minister Charles Sousa introduced The Toronto Transit Commission Labour Disputes Resolution Act, saying it "was the right thing to do."

"We have acted reasonably in introducing this bill," he said.

He said about 1.5 million Torontonians use the TTC every day and a work stoppage costs the city's economy about $50 million a day.

Premier Dalton McGuinty insisted the move is not about bowing to pressure from the Toronto's new mayor ahead of a provincial election.

"We have received a proposal from Toronto's city council. We have listened to them, we have talked to representatives of the workers as well and we have heard from many Torontonians," McGuinty told reporters.

"Whatever we do it is about helping the people of Toronto and ensuring that their needs are being met."

One of Mayor Rob Ford's first orders of business after sweeping into office late last year was having the TTC declared an essential service.

In January, Toronto City Council voted 28-17 in favour of asking McGuinty to introduce legislation to declare the TTC essential.

The essential service designation takes away transit workers' right to legally strike amid a contract dispute. Instead, negotiations could be subject to binding arbitration by a third party.

Amalgamated Transit Union president Bob Kinnear called Ford a "coward" Tuesday over the bill, and accused the provincial government of trying to win votes.

Still, he said the union doesn't plan to strike, but may seek out other tactics, including work to rule.

"Our members provide a lot of overtime which actually a savings to the Toronto Transit Commission, it's an individual decision and individuals may decide not to do overtime," Kinnear told reporters.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz thanked the provincial government Tuesday and said she looks forward to the new legislation being passed quickly.

"This legislation will ensure riders have continuity of service while we negotiate our collective bargaining agreements with our unions," she said at a press conference.

Minister of Labour Charles Sousa will table the legislation at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss reports the bill could be passed by March 31.

The TTC employees' contract expires on March 31, but Stintz said the union had agreed not to strike during collective bargaining.

New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath hinted her party may try to drag out the debate.

"This kind of bill has serious implications for this union and others," she told reporters. "We want to see a full and proper debate take place."

Horwath said essential services legislation drives up the cost of collective bargaining agreements.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak was in support of the bill, but said he had to see the "fine print" first.

"Mayor Ford has been elected with a very clear mandate," Mr. Hudak told reporters. "In our role, we will help him carry out the promises he made to Toronto taxpayers."

The Toronto and York Labour Region Council said it "strongly opposed" the proposed legislation.

"We are deeply disappointed that the premier and his cabinet are doing the dirty work of Mayor Rob Ford to attack basic labour rights in this province," the organization's president, John Cartwright, said in a statement. "There is a certain irony that even the anti-labour regime of Mike Harris didn't go so far during its time."

Stintz said it is possible to negotiate a settlement with a union that has the essential service designation, citing negotiations with city's firefighters.