In an open letter to Ontario’s teachers Premier Dalton McGuinty thanked educators for their work but said the government still has a “clear determination” to balance the budget by 2017-18 and will announce its next steps Thursday.

McGuinty did not say in his letter if he’ll impose contracts on teachers under Bill 115, but experts say the language used in the letter indicates he will.

“Our preference is and has always been negotiated settlements. But after 10 months, the bargaining deadline has passed. Ontarians expect, rightly, that uncertainty in education will not continue indefinitely,” McGuinty wrote in the three-page letter issued Wednesday. He also noted in his letter that Ontario teachers are the highest paid in North America.

“Basically he’s saying ‘We gave you a chance, you didn’t take it. Tomorrow, the hammer comes down,’” Annie Kidder of People for Education said.

Education Minister Laurel Broten is scheduled to outline the government’s next steps Thursday at 10 a.m. Union leaders say they’ll announce their response on Thursday, as well.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation President Ken Coran said if contracts are imposed on teachers there will likely be consequences.

“Imposing a contract always has long-lasting negative implications,” Coran said.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the OSSTF have said they will hold a day of protest if contracts are imposed on them. They have also said they could stop leading extra-curricular activities for the next two years.

Extra-curricular activities have been put on hold since the start of the school year.

McGuinty’s words come two days after the quiet passing of a deadline for teachers to reach labour agreements with their local school boards.

While more than 65 agreements have been struck and ratified with local school boards so far, ETFO and the OSSTF have not signed agreements. Together, the unions represent over 130,000 members.

Under Bill 115, the government is now able to impose a contract on teachers.

Teachers across the province have staged a series of one-day rotating strikes over the bill, which includes a wage freeze and limits the ability to bank sick days. However, the sorest point between the two sides is a portion allowing the province to impose contracts.

In the past, Broten has suggested she’s willing to impose a contract on teachers if the dispute continues. When the minister permitted teachers to hold one-day strikes, she said she had the “necessary legal documents drafted and ready” to end prolonged job action.

Opposition Leader Tim Hudak has urged the governing Liberals to use Bill 115 to quash the dispute.

Speaking to the Canadian Press, Hudak said the Liberals owed it to parents to end the ongoing fight before students returned to class after the holiday break.

The Ontario government maintains that the concessions asked of teachers in Bill 115 are part of an overall effort to balance the province’s books. McGuinty said all public service employees have been asked to negotiate two-year wage freezes, and 90,000 of those people have already done so.

Among those who have already struck agreements are roughly 55,000 school support workers, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees. The agreement applies to educational assistants, early childhood educators, instructors, custodians, librarians and secretaries.

The CUPE deal, however, is tentative and will be voted upon Jan. 5.

The labour dispute has galvanized much of the province, including scores of parents who were left scrambling in December as teachers hit the picket lines with just 72-hours’ notice.

Provincial Liberal leadership candidates have also been drawn into the fight, a battle that the next premier of Ontario may have to inherit when McGuinty formally leaves his post at the end of the month.

Leadership hopeful Kathleen Wynne, a former education minister met with students from the Toronto District School Board on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the dispute.

“My hope was that we would never have to use Bill 115 to impose settlements,” she told CTV Toronto before the meeting. “My hope was always that we would have collectively bargained agreements.”

Wynne refused to speculate on how Broten might respond next.

Gerard Kennedy, another Ontario Liberal leadership hopeful, has not said whether he would repeal Bill 115. However, at a campaign stop in Sudbury, Kennedy was quoted calling the bill a “mistake.”

With a report from CTV Toronto’s Naomi Parness