Barrett wants Auditor General to ‘follow the money’ on Liberals’ bargaining payouts

Oct. 28, 2015

QUEEN’S PARK –MPP Toby Barrett is joining his MPP colleagues in questioning why the government finds $2.5 million to pay out to teachers’ unions, instead of spending it in the classroom.

To make matters worse, there are no receipts for the ‘bargaining costs’, and payments total $3.74 million if previous years back to 2008 are taken into account. Barrett would like the Auditor General to ‘follow the money’.

“What does taking $2.5 million out of a classroom look like?” Barrett’s colleague Sylvia Jones asked during Question Period. “It looks like 75 fewer education assistants. It looks like a week of healthy breakfasts for 10,000 classrooms. It lloks like over 33,000 Grade 9 math textbooks.”

The Official Opposition put forward a motion calling for the Auditor General to look into the secret payments. They were joined in this call by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

To make matters more interesting, the payments might not be legal.

According to MPP Jack MacLaren, Section 53 of the Labour Relations Act states that: “an agreement between an employer . . . and a trade union shall be deemed not to be a collective agreement . . .if an employer or employers’ organization . . . contributed financial or other support to the trade union.” The act also states, “no employer . . . shall . . . contribute financial or other support to a trade union.”

“I am not a lawyer, are these payments even legal,” MacLaren questioned in the Legislature.

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For more information, contact MPP Toby Barrett at 519-428-0446 or [email protected]

Oct. 28, 2015


Mr. Steve Clark: My question is to the Premier. The Minister of Education has said she was unconcerned about a potential investigation of the Auditor General into the $3.74 million given to teachers’ unions. Does the Premier share similar feelings?
Mr. Speaker, will the Premier instruct her members of the public accounts committee to support an Auditor General investigation into the unprecedented windfall given to teachers’ unions?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: The reality is the Auditor General has the authority to look at what she chooses to look at. Of course, we always will work with her and cooperate with her.
As I know has been said a number of times in this House, we are talking about a process that has been successful. Students have remained in the classroom and the agreements were in line with our net-zero bargaining framework. That successful process required extra resources. I know that the members opposite know that …
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(Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne)
… net-zero bargaining framework, and that successful process required extra resources. I know that the members opposite know that there has been a change, that there has been a transitional process, and it was very important that the resources be in place to make that successful.
Mr. Speaker, the other reality is that this money has not flowed so, again, I say to the members opposite, I’m not sure how familiar they are with the negotiating process and the collective bargaining process, but the agreements are in place. The money has not flowed yet, and I’ll have more to say about that in the supplementary.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?
Mr. Steve Clark: Thanks, Speaker. Back to the Premier. It’s not just the PCs that are calling for this investigation. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has said, “The Premier appears to be funnelling public money into these unions, who then turn around and spend money campaigning for her government.” They added, “This is not the kind of conduct we should expect from a transparent and democratic government, and we think the Auditor General should investigate.”
Will the Premier show some integrity, pre-empt our motion and open the books to the Auditor General?
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Premier.
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I said in the first answer that of course we’ll work with the Auditor General. We will absolutely work with the Auditor General, as we always do. She has the opportunity to look at what she chooses to look at. Mr. Speaker, the cost of the successful process that has been undergone with the unions was offset by savings that were found through the collective agreements. The funds did not come out of the classroom.
I said in the first answer, Mr. Speaker, that this money has not flowed and that is the reality. It’s part of the agreement that it hasn’t flowed and teachers’ unions will provide an accounting of their costs. Before that money flows, there will be an accounting of how that money is used and what that money is for and what the costs were. That is, I think, consistent with what we have been saying about the cost of getting these agreements.
Mr. Steve Clark: I still didn’t hear an unequivocal “yes” to pre-empting our motion at public accounts. Speaker, even the Toronto Star has called “the cheques to the unions disturbing.” If the government has nothing to hide, if everything is by the book, then why not let the Auditor General review these expenses? Why won’t the Premier let the Auditor General review the $3.74 million handed out to the unions?
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please. Thank you.
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: If the Auditor General wants to look at this process, she is welcome to do that, Mr. Speaker. We will work with her. We will co-operate with her, as we always do. But, remember, this is a successful process. It’s the first time that this particular process has been used. There were resources required to get these successful agreements and that has happened.
This money has not flowed. The teachers’ unions will be required to provide an accounting before the money flows so it will be clear exactly how the costs were incurred. But the fact is it’s been a successful process. It was a transitional process because it was new, and the money has not flowed. There will be an accounting from the unions about how the costs were incurred.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): New question.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: My question is to the Premier. After almost a week of questions, it’s clear the Premier doesn’t want to tell us where the $2.5 payout came from. The Premier uses buzzwords like “overall compensation package” and the “cost associated with negotiations.” Nobody in Ontario buys those answers. Speaker, if the Premier won’t tell us where the money came from, can you at least tell us what it bought you?
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Premier.
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Let’s talk about where the money came from. In fact, when we said the funds—these resources to complete the successful bargaining process—where that money came from, they came from things like early, discounted payout of retirement gratuities; lowering the cost of sick leave; making the delivery of professional development more efficient. When I said, Mr. Speaker, that that money came out of the overall compensation package, those are the kinds of examples because sick leave, retirement gratuities—that’s all part of the compensation packages of teachers. That’s where the money came from. It didn’t come from the classroom, it didn’t come from programs for students. We have been clear about that. Those of the kinds of examples of where the money came from to make sure the resources were in place to get—
Mr. John Yakabuski: Don’t point the finger over here. You’re in charge.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): No, I am, and I’m standing.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: Every day we ask …
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The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): No, I am, and I’m standing.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: Every day we ask these questions there are new talking points, new spin, new answers. It’s not acceptable. The Premier’s unwillingness to tells us where the $2.5 million payout came from leads me to talk about where it could have come from. So what does $2.5 million in the classroom look like? It looks like 75 fewer educational assistants. It looks like a week of healthy breakfasts for 10,000 classrooms. It look like over 33,000 grade 9 math textbooks. It looks like almost 115 students on a field trip to the Ontario Science Centre. Was it worth it, Premier?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: When you’re dealing with a group of people who do not believe in the collective bargaining process and therefore have little experience of how it actually works, and don’t understand—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Good check.
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: When a group of teachers who are organized into a federation make a decision that they choose to offset one expense by reducing the payout of retirement gratuities or they take a change in sick leave, then that allows that money to be used for something else. This is not money that is coming from classroom programs. It’s not money that was coming from student programs. Now I’m sorry—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Just to make sure you heard: The member from Leeds–Grenville, second time. The member from Renfrew, second time. I’m not going to accept shouting people down.
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I’m sorry that the member opposite doesn’t understand the process. I’m sorry that they have no interest in actually understanding how collective bargaining—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Final supplementary.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: What I understand is $2.5 million isn’t available to students in Ontario. While this government is giving away much-needed money in our system for pizzas and hotels, the Liberals are turning their back on students and parents. Assumption Catholic School parents in Ottawa had to raise $50,000 for a new playground. Parkview Public School parents in Unionville aimed to raise $25,000 for musical instruments, smart boards, novel sets, and numeracy and literacy centres. Rosebank Road Public School in Pickering purchased 11 fans for classrooms. Those students and parents shouldn’t be fundraising for fans while the Premier shrugs off $2.5 million and calls it business as usual.
Again I ask: What did the $2.5 million buy?
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated please. Thank you.
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Here’s what I understand. When we came into office, 68% of students in this province were graduating from high school. Mr. Speaker, 84% of students in this province are graduating from high school. That’s because we have invested in more teachers. It’s because we’ve put in place student success teachers, who work with kids who were falling through the cracks under the previous government, who didn’t have the supports in the school to help them to navigate their way through high school. It’s because we created literacy and numeracy specialists. It’s because we have put in place the supports that students need. That’s what I understand about why our education system in this province is one of the best in the world. Over the last decade, people have come from all over the world to see how we have transformed our education system. We’re going to continue to do that.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Be seated, please. Thank you. New question.