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Ontario teachers’ union expense reports on hold for now

Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals is promising to publicly release the audited receipts of teachers’ unions receiving government payments for their bargaining expenses – but not yet.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals is promising to publicly release the audited receipts of teachers' unions receiving government payments for their bargaining expenses – but not yet.

Ms. Sandals said the high school teachers' union has submitted an audited financial statement and a legal document attesting to its accuracy, but she will not make them public until after contracts are ratified at all of the province's school boards. Two other unions – representing Catholic teachers and francophone teachers – have not yet turned in their expenses, she said.

"Oh yes, you will get it," she said Wednesday when asked whether the numbers would all be made public.

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Ms. Sandals said that the receipts will be released at the same time as a full accounting showing how the deals negotiated with teachers' unions are "net zero" – meaning that any raises or other improvements to benefits for teachers are being offset by cuts elsewhere in the contract.

"When we have all the material ready to release, because it's part of a net-zero, that it would be released with the net-zero," she said at Queen's Park after Question Period. "We're getting everything together … we will put it out."

Bargaining with teachers in Ontario uses a two-step process, in which larger matters such as pay are hammered out between the government and the central unions, while smaller issues are settled between individual school boards and union locals.

The government has reached central deals with all of the province's education unions, but Ms. Sandals's office said there are still 240 local unions out of 473 that have not yet reached deals.

The Globe and Mail revealed last fall that the province had secretly agreed to pay $1-million each to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA), plus $500,000 to the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) to get them to sign labour deals with the province.

The payments were made to compensate the unions for the increased costs of bargaining, which became longer and more expensive after the government put the two-step system in place.

At first, Ms. Sandals said she did not need to see receipts from the unions to verify their bargaining expenses.

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"We know what 100 pizzas cost," she told reporters at the time. But a few days later, she reversed course and pledged the unions would be made to turn over receipts before they got the money.

Ms. Sandals's office said the government is "in the process" of paying OSSTF $1-million. Ms. Sandals said the other two unions have not yet received any money.

The payments are under renewed scrutiny this week after The Globe uncovered a plan by OSSTF to more than double the size of its strike fund to $140-million through a special 0.3-per-cent levy on members.

It is unclear why the union required the $1-million from government if it is prepared to raise many times that amount from its members.

OSSTF president Paul Elliott did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, including questions about why his union still needs the government payment despite the planned levy.

OECTA said it will not receive any money from government until all local agreements are ratified.

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"We will fully comply with all government requirements pertaining to this matter at the appropriate time," OECTA president Ann Hawkins said in a statement.

Asked whether OECTA would make the receipts public on its own, union official Michelle Despault replied: "We will comply with whatever government requirements there are around this."

AEFO said it will submit its expense report "in the near future," and that it would leave any public release to the province.

"It's up to the government to make the decision on whether to make the report public or not," said Marilyne Guèvremont, an AEFO spokeswoman.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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