Education Minister Laurel Broten threatened on Monday to introduce legislation that would avoid salary increases if teachers’ unions did not agree to new contracts by August 31.

“The expiry date for these contracts is fast approaching, the start of the school year is fast approaching, and we can no longer allow these partners to drag their feet,” Broten told reporters at Queen’s Park Monday.

“Without new contracts by early fall, there is a greater chance for labour disruption.”

Broten would not elaborate on what sort of legislation the government would pursue, only saying that they have asked by trustee groups to signal their intentions by the beginning of August.

“If school board trustees cannot do what they need to do, or refuse to do it, our government will have little choice but to introduce legislation,” Broten said.

Teacher’s contracts will automatically extend for another year if a new deal is not reached by August 31. The Liberals say the automatic “rollover” would lead to salary increases of 5.5 per cent for many teachers, and the accumulation of two million more sick days, cashable upon retirement.

Broten said on Monday that the only way to afford that cost increase would be to reduce the quality of education in the classroom.

“If boards do not act, the result will mean boards will need to find money in classrooms, negatively affecting the classroom experience and hurting programs that Ontario students rely on, to pay for automatic wage increases,” Broten said.

NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo said Broten’s comments were just another indication of a government that was not willing to uphold the collective bargaining process.

“This is not a government that is interested in negotiating in good faith,” DiNovo told reporters Monday.

DiNovo was skeptical of solving the labour disputes through legislation, saying that whatever bill Broten will introduce cannot take the place of proper negotiation.

“She’s walked away from the table and she’s suggesting that this legislation, whatever it may look like, we’ve never heard of this before or seen it, is going to solve things. It’s not,” DiNovo said.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario have both indicated that strike votes will be held prior to the start of the school year.

However, teachers’ groups were quick to condemn the announcement Monday, saying that the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association had six months to negotiate its contract and the Elementary Teachers' Federation is being asked to do the same thing in just one month.

Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond told The Canadian Press that Broten’s “unwarranted threats and demands are unrealistic in terms of timelines and quite frankly irresponsible.”

He also accused Broten of misleading parents about the threat of a strike early in the school year.

"I made it very clear, the largest teachers' union in Canada, that our members would be on the job as professionals in September," said Hammond.

"We are taking strike votes, but they begin the second week of September and go into Oct. 2, well, well outside of the minister's timelines,” he told The Canadian Press.

Toronto District School Board president Chris Bolton also said he was surprised about the announcement, telling CP24 that he didn’t even know about it until he saw it on the news Monday.

The Liberals also announced Monday that they had reached an agreement with the Association of Professional Student Services Personnel.

According to a news release, the agreement is similar to the deal reached with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association – which includes a two-year pay freeze.

With files from The Canadian Press