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Canada Ontario Liberals to pay $39-million to several education groups

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks during a town hall meeting in Ottawa, on Jan. 18, 2018.

Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario’s Liberal government is paying $39-million to several education groups, including principals, vice-principals and other non-unionized staff − part of a larger payout to teachers and school workers ahead of the provincial election.

The government said the payments are about “fairness and equity,” according to a memo sent earlier this week by an assistant deputy minister, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

But some unions question whether these payouts – to unionized and non-unionized workers – are politically motivated as Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals fight to gain support ahead of the June 7 election. Teachers have been key members of the Liberals’ political base and the party has taken several measures to buy labour peace.

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Five education unions, including the province’s two largest teachers’ groups, recently won a court challenge that the province violated their collective bargaining rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by imposing contracts in 2012 that delayed raises and suspended their right to strike.

But as the government was reaching remedies with these unions as mandated by the court, The Globe learned that it was also discussing settlements as a result of salary delays with other groups who were not part of the ruling, including principals and vice-principals.

“Fairness and equity is a key component of rebuilding our relationships with school board employees, including unionized and non-unionized groups,” according to the memo.

Heather Irwin, a spokeswoman for the Education Ministry, said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday that the government has reached agreements with a number of smaller unions, including the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens, and principals and vice-principal associations. The government is also providing payments to “those without representation,” meaning administrative staff and human-resource officers.

Employees who qualify will receive a one-time payment of about $1,200. The total cost of these agreements is about $39-million, Ms. Irwin said.

The Globe reported earlier this month that the province is also paying its English Catholic teachers’ association $31-million after the union won an arbitration ruling on delays in salary increases.

The news of more payouts comes as the province’s two largest teachers’ unions − the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation - filed unfair-labour practice complaints against the government for what they characterize as bad-faith bargaining.

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The unions, which filed the complaints with the Ontario Labour Relations Board on Friday, said the government “engaged in coercion and reprisals” and discriminated against them because they successfully challenged the violation of their members’ constitutional rights in 2012, and that the province bargained in “bad faith” in the 2014 negotiations.

In the meantime, groups that did not bring court actions against the province are in negotiations to benefit from pay increases, the unions say.

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said he was frustrated by the latest round of payouts being made to unions and non-unionized workers who did not participate in the court action.

The French teachers and English Catholic teachers, for example, were not part of the challenge because they signed off on deals and, therefore, contracts were not imposed on their members.

“Sadly, I’ve lost my capacity to be shocked by the duplicity of this Liberal government. They don’t have even a semblance of a legitimate excuse for this latest distribution of funds,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.

“There was no reason to do that other than … political ones,” Mr. Bischof added.

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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says her government will increase hospital funding by $822-million in 2018-2019, the third major funding promise the Liberals have made in as many days ahead of the province’s June election. The Canadian Press
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