An 8.5-per-cent pay hike for the Ontario Provincial Police in 2014 is proof the Liberal government's wage freeze for one million public sector workers is meaningless, the Opposition has charged.
The Liberals have been having a tough time getting arbitrators to freeze public sector wages for two years because they never passed legislation to enforce it.
The 6,100 OPP officers received a 5-per-cent wage hike this year in advance of the freeze, and because of a clause in their contract guaranteeing they'll be the highest paid cops in Ontario, they will get another 8.5 per cent in 2014.
The Liberals "made a lot of noise about wage restraints" to deal with a $16.3-billion deficit, but the OPP contract shows they didn't put that talk into practice, deputy Progressive Conservative leader Christine Elliott said on Tuesday.
"I think it was completely irresponsible of this government to negotiate that kind of an agreement at a time when people are losing their jobs, when many people don't have pension plans, when people are really struggling," said Ms. Elliott. "It really doesn't set a good tone for all of the other negotiations."
Salaries for the OPP "need to remain competitive with other Ontario police services," said Premier Dalton McGuinty.
"I'm proud of the fact that they've decided to take a two-year wage increase of zero in the first year and zero in the second year," Mr. McGuinty told reporters. "It's a two-year pay freeze. That's what we've been looking for."
Police in Toronto recently reached a four-year, tentative agreement calling for a cumulative 11.5-per-cent salary increase, which local officials blamed in part on the lucrative OPP contract.
However, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said it was the other way around and it was Toronto that was raising salaries for police by being too generous in its contracts.
"We do have to catch up to Toronto as a result of the agreement they signed," Mr. Duncan said. "We've negotiated a deal now that isn't as generous as the one given by Toronto by any measure."
He admitted other big public-sector unions, such as teachers, could also end up with healthy raises the year after their wages are supposed to be frozen.
"It depends on what gets negotiated," he said.
The Liberals are also under fire for a secret 2008 deal to give the Ontario Public Service Employees Union – the province's largest public sector union – a 3-per-cent pay hike in 2012, a deal that was hidden from the public until a labour relations board hearing this month.
Toronto's Police Services Board said the OPP deal weakened municipalities' bargaining position with local police.
"I must say that decisions made at the provincial level are largely responsible for [the Toronto police]deal," board chair Alok Mukherjee wrote in an open letter to Mr. McGuinty. "The province has repeatedly taken steps to set a pattern of steadily increasing costs in policing."
The New Democrats said the OPP agreement showed the Liberals' attempt at a voluntary two-year wage freeze was doomed from the start.
"The government's wage freeze policy was going nowhere from Day 1," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. "This government, instead of having an honest, up-front discussion about these issues, put forward this wage freeze – and I put quotations around that because it was anything but a wage freeze."
The government has negotiated some contracts that include a two-year wage freeze with some small union locals, but not with any of its major bargaining units such as teachers or nurses, Mr. Duncan said.
"None of them have been what I would call the really large ones, but we're not funding any increases beyond zero and zero."
The Toronto police board also complained about increases in the OPP pension provisions, saying they were "made much more generous than the pension plan" for all other police officers.
"These changes will likely cost millions of public dollars," wrote Mr. Mukherjee. "Other police associations are trying to bargain for the same treatment."