Thousands of Ontario teachers are being asked to think about the province's debt before asking for a raise during contract negotiations—a move that unions argue has injected politics into the talks.

The pitch to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) was made by the province in late September as negotiators and the union began their discussions.

The draft collective bargaining brief, publicized by the union, lays out the Progressive Conservative's "rationale" for why it wants a one per cent salary increase for a four-year contract.

"Ontario’s subnational debt in 2019/2020 is projected to be $360 billion–the highest of any jurisdiction in the world," the document states.

The proposal adds that while teachers are "instrumental to student success" they are still among the "highest paid" in Canada, with an average annual salary of $92,900 in 2018-2019.

"If inflation were to track at 2 per cent per year, a 2 per cent salary increase in each year would have an annualized cost of approximately $1.5 billion for all teachers and education workers at the end of the four year term of the collective agreement," the proposal states.

The initial bargaining proposal has been panned by the union, which argues that the government has its facts wrong. The OSSTF says the average annual salary for its members is $86,682 and that a one percent increase wouldn't be enough.

"What it means is that next year all of my members would effectively be getting paid less than they are this year," says OSSTF President Harvey Bischof. "One per cent doesn't keep up with inflation."

The president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) agrees that teachers would be effectively dealt a "pay cut."

"When you look at the rate of inflation, when you look at public sector wages over the last eight years—yes, it would be a pay cut at one per cent," said ETFO President Sam Hammond.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the request of education unions is "a reflection of the reality for working parents."

"I think it's important that all segments of the economy and all partners at the table recognize the challenges that families face every day," Lecce told CTV News Toronto on Tuesday.

Lecce says that while each discussion will be different, the province will "negotiate hard" to achieve their targets.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) was the first to accept a one per cent increase in compensation for its 55,000 members, which Lecce hopes will set the precedent for other education unions.

Stike votes

While the Ford government takes a hard line on union salaries, it could find itself in another school closure showdown similar to the one it faced with CUPE last week.

Members of ETFO have been taking province-wide strike votes, with the results expected to be announced in November.

"I have no doubt that our members get how critical this round of negotiations are," Hammond says. "I have no doubt that they'll give us a strong mandate."

Bischof says the government's proposals did not include a rationale for its increase to class sizes in Ontario high schools, suggesting that could be a red line for his members.

"If the government sticks to its guns on the various cuts to education it made to the student experience, then it could well be that we have to move to strike votes."

The province is looking for a four-year contract with an end date of Aug. 23, 2023.