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Canada Ontario releases expense report for high-school teachers’ union

Education Minister Liz Sandals has justified the payments by saying they were necessary to compensate the unions for the increased costs of bargaining.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

After months of probing, Ontario's Liberal government has released the audited expenses of a secret payment made to the public high-school teachers' union.

The Globe and Mail revealed last fall that the province paid three teachers' unions $2.5-million to support them with bargaining costs and get them to sign labour deals. The government handed $1-million each to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, plus $500,000 to the smaller Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens.

The payments to the teachers union have been controversial. After initially saying it did not see the unions' receipts to verify bargaining expenses, the Liberals said they would seek an accounting.

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The audited expenses of the OSSTF's payment, released by the Ministry of Education, included $391,110 for hotels, $141,075 for meals and $271,168 for travel. There were also expenses filed for meeting rooms and telephone, video and Internet services for the period from August, 2014, to the end of September, 2015.

Education Minister Liz Sandals has justified the payments by saying they were necessary to compensate the unions for the increased costs of bargaining, which became longer and more complicated after the Liberals put a two-step system in place. Larger matters such as salaries were negotiated between the government and central unions, while smaller issues were settled between individual school boards and union locals.

The government reached central deals with all the education unions in the fall, but not before a tough round of negotiations during which the public high-school teachers' union held strikes in the Toronto area and Northern Ontario, and the government legislated the teachers back to work.

There are still 240 local unions out of 473 that have not yet reached deals. The current contracts are for a three-year period, and are set to expire at the end of the August, 2017.

The government said it will release audited expenses of the payments to OECTA and the AEFO after the two unions complete local bargaining. It said the four associations representing school boards, which includes the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, received $11.6-million over three years for bargaining and to manage activities as a result of negotiations.

The union representing public elementary school teachers did not accept a payment.

The $1-million payment to the OSSTF was made despite the union's internal financial statements, obtained by The Globe, showed that it had substantial reserves for bargaining costs, political action and grievances. The member protection account's total balance at the end of the 2014 fiscal year – when the union began negotiating a new collective agreement with the province – was more than $65-million.

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OSSTF president Paul Elliott did not respond to an e-mail on Tuesday requesting comment.

With a report from Adrian Morrow

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