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Toronto Toronto police would be country's highest-paid under contract offer

Toronto Police Chief William Blair, Toronto Mayor Rob Forld, and Lieutenant Governor David Only were among the dignitaries, guests and families in attendance at the graduation in January, 2011, of the latest class of recruits into the Toronto Police force.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Toronto police will be the country's highest-paid officers under a tentative agreement that offers over 11 per cent in wage hikes over the next four years - a deal that could set a plush precedent for other city contract negotiations and nudge the mayor's yawning budget shortfall over $800-million.

The contract would give city police wage hikes of 3.2 per cent in 2011, 3 per cent in the two subsequent years, and 2 per cent in 2014, according to police sources.

The Toronto Police Association, which represents the force's 5,600 uniformed and 2,200 civilian members, presented the deal to members on Wednesday and recommended they accept it. A ratification vote will be held on May 25.

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Neither representatives for the association nor the civilian oversight body they face across the bargaining table, the Toronto Police Services Board, will comment before the vote.

Mayor Rob Ford, who appoints the three councillors to the board, refused to talk about the deal during a Thursday afternoon news conference.

But if his brother and closest adviser, Councillor Doug Ford, is any gauge of his outlook, the mayor is content.

"It's a good deal; it's fair," said the first-term councillor, who added that he's familiar with only portions of the contract circulated in the media. "It looks to be right in line with the OPP and Peel [Regional Police] If we had let this go to arbitration like previous councils, we would be paying more."

But a chorus of critics is lining up to question why a mayor who has made fiscal austerity his personal brand would permit an agreement that, on the surface, appears richer than those offered other municipal workers during David Miller's time as mayor, a supposedly more labour-friendly era.

The current city contract for inside workers belonging to CUPE Local 79 sets annual increases of 1.75 per cent, 2 per cent and 2.25 per cent, equivalent to those of library workers and outside city workers with Local 416.

Workers with Local 416 are facing possible layoffs as the city pushes a plan to contract out garbage collection.

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"What ever happened to eliminating the gravy train?" said Mariana Valverde, director of the University of Toronto's Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal studies. "In the current economic climate, we need not treat police differently than people who work at daycare centres or people who pick up garbage. Other cities have cut police budgets; this city doesn't seem to be capable of it."

To a degree, essential-service legislation ties the city's hands during contract negotiations with police. Rather than hammer out a contract under looming threat of strikes, the two sides are bound by arbitration if they can't reach a deal.

"It gives you a complete lack of flexibility in negotiations," said Councillor Shelley Carroll, the city's former budget chief, who called the new police contract generous in light of the concessions other unions have made.

That generosity may now encourage other public worker unions to seek equivalent hikes, especially those with essential-service designations, a rank that now includes 10,000 Toronto Transit Committee (TTC) workers whose contract expired on March 31.

"This now creates a problem for [TTC chief general manager]Gary Webster and [TTC chair]Karen Stintz," said Ms. Carroll. "It's precedent."

Doug Ford bristled at those suggestions.

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"I find it ironic that the only people [on council]complaining about this deal are the ones responsible for a previous police contract that included a far larger increase than this one," Mr. Ford said.

Negotiations began in January between the union and the police board, and struck a far more conciliatory tone than the last round of bargaining in 2008, when both sides agreed to arbitration after nine months of turbulent dialogue.

City council is already facing a well-publicized $784-billion shortfall in its next budget. The new police contract would heap another $20-million on that, although the board may squeeze other areas of the police budget - closing in on $1-billion - to offset the wage increase.

The force is in the middle of an internal audit that will examine every facet of its operations for cost savings. "The police will give us concessions elsewhere," Mr. Ford said. "Of the thousands and thousands of doors I've knocked on, there was not one complaint of how the police were paid."

With a report from Timothy Appleby

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