Torstar News Service Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is seen in a school playground surrounded by children after speaking to media.

Ontario’s elementary teachers plan to hold strikes in December, saying parents at affected schools will be given 72 hours notice.

A day after two high school teacher unions voted down tentative deals that could have been the start of labour peace in the province’s schools, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario ramped up their fight with the government, vowing members will walk off the job.

“It is unfortunate that we have been placed in the position of having to strike by Education Minister Laurel Broten, but we will provide parents with ample notice to ensure the safety of students,” said union president Sam Hammond in a written release.

Some grade school teachers are already in a work-to-rule position, but by December all elementary teacher union locals will be in strike position.

Meanwhile, earlier Wednesday, Premier Dalton McGuinty said he’s not worried that two high school unions rejected contract offers with Liberal leadership candidates taking a softer stand on his controversial teacher wage freeze law.

“I’m not going to try to divine what it is that might motivate teachers in this regard,” he said Wednesday in Windsor, a day after York and Niagara Region public high school teachers turned thumbs down on deals already approved by Education Minister Laurel Broten.

“There are, of course, many other agreements we hope to have signed.”

The votes, which came as high school teachers at the Upper Grand District School Board in the Guelph area did approve a contract the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation negotiated, are seen as a blow to the minority Liberal government’s hopes for labour peace in schools.

McGuinty put on a brave face as his administration, which faces a $14.4 billion budget deficit this year, pushes for deals before a new premier is elected at the party’s leadership convention on the last weekend in January.

“I would continue to ask teachers to keep an open mind, be mindful of our economic and fiscal challenges and carefully consider what we put before them,” he told reporters.

“We chose to keep jobs, we just want to freeze pay for a couple of years,” he added, noting the Liberals rejected job cuts in their Bill 115, which has infuriated teachers by severely limiting their collective bargaining rights.

The government had been hoping the deals reached with fanfare earlier this month would be accepted, setting a better pattern for teachers at other school boards around the province.

Sources said York teachers rejected the tentative deal feeling it was largely imposed by Queen’s Park, which wanted all teacher contracts patterned on a deal reached during the summer with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.

Union activists have also said signing on to any deals could weaken their court challenge of Bill 115.

The rejections means high school teachers in York and Niagara regions will begin withdrawing some administrative duties soon.

“We understand that we have some differences,” McGuinty said, acknowledging the province is going through a “challenging period” but called on a solution that will “respect our fiscal plan and our teachers at the same time. Let’s do it in a way that keeps students out of it.”

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