Ontario's Progressive Conservative opposition is calling for the Auditor-General to investigate $3.74-million in secret payments the Liberal government made to teachers' unions over the past seven years.
MPP Lisa MacLeod said on Tuesday she will table a motion in a legislative committee directing auditor Bonnie Lysyk to look into those payments, as well as the $4.6-million the government gave to school boards to pay their bargaining costs. The vote on the motion will happen next week.
The government has been making the payments since 2008, but they came to light only last week, when The Globe and Mail obtained copies of confidential agreements between the province and two teachers' unions. The Liberals have said they paid the money to cover the unions' bargaining expenses, but did not ask for receipts.
On Tuesday, The Globe reported the unions that received the payments have spent more than $6.5-million in the past three provincial election campaigns – much of it for attack ads against the PCs – and donated nearly $800,000 to the Liberals over the past decade.
"With a sum of money this large going undocumented to public-sector unions who ran attack ads – it doesn't look good," Ms. MacLeod told reporters after announcing her motion in Question Period. "It will be important the auditor review those numbers and make sure the money wasn't misappropriated, although I believe it has been."
The Liberals hold a majority of seats on the committee, so they will decide if the Tory motion passes. Liberal members have voted in favour of audit motions before, most recently for an investigation into spending on the Pan American Games, so Ms. MacLeod said she hopes the government will do the same this time.
Education Minister Liz Sandals said she was not worried about an audit, and that Ms. Lysyk would find the payouts were "net-zero," meaning their cost was covered through cuts elsewhere in the collective agreements.
"No," Ms. Sandals said when asked if the prospect of an audit concerned her. "She'll find out that we have net-zero collective agreements and that the compensation to the unions, that is part of the net-zero deal."
The two deals The Globe has copies of – with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) – detail several sources for the savings. These include new incentives for teachers not to use as many sick days, an option for teachers to have banked sick days paid out earlier at a lower rate, and a provision to divert money from a fund to hire extra teachers for special programs.
Both OECTA and OSSTF have spent big at election time, running their own campaigns and contributing to Working Families, a union umbrella group.
Working Families leader Patrick Dillon said in an interview that organized labour and the government have no quid pro quo when it comes to election campaigns. Some unions, he said, have a better relationship with the opposition NDP than they do with the Liberals. His organization's campaigning is not meant to be partisan, he said.
"The intent is to expose conservative policies that would be harmful to workers," he said.
Mr. Dillon said his members meet with politicians of all stripes to discuss labour issues, but do not co-ordinate their political campaigns with the Liberals or any other party.
"Absolutely not. No connection whatsoever," he said, adding that if Working Families were ever approached by either the Liberals or the NDP to talk election strategy, "we would refuse."