TORONTO – Ontario’s deputy premier said Friday she didn’t know about a reported $65-million reserve fund the public high school teachers’ union had when the government agreed to pay them $1 million for negotiating costs.
Deb Matthews, who is also head of the Treasury Board, the department that manages all government spending, wouldn’t say if the government as a whole or the bargaining team knew about it before they agreed to the payout to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
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“I can tell you that I certainly didn’t know,” she said. “I don’t know if that fund exists. I don’t know what it’s for. I’m not going to comment on OSSTF finances.”
READ MORE: Auditor general to investigate $3.74 million payouts to Ontario teachers’ unions
The Globe and Mail reported that the OSSTF has a $65-million fund that has been used in the past to pay for bargaining costs, political action and grievances.
The Liberal government has defended $3.74 million in payments to several unions over the past three rounds of contract talks as necessary because the transition to a new bargaining system made the process quite lengthy.
Education Minister Liz Sandals originally said the payouts were made without receipts from the unions, but the government later backtracked and said it would ask for documentation.
“The money has not flowed,” Matthews said Friday. “No money will be flowed until there is a full accounting of it.”
READ MORE: Ontario Progressive Conservatives want auditor general to investigate union payments
Matthews noted that Liberals supported a Progressive Conservative motion to ask the auditor general to review the payments.
But PC Leader Patrick Brown said the fact his party had to initiate the request – after the payments were revealed by the Globe – shows the Liberals are not as transparent as they claim.
“(The auditor’s review) will likely take months with no results until the spring when the Liberals hope that Ontarians have forgotten all about the millions of dollars that they gave away,” he said in a statement.
OSSTF did not respond to a request for comment.
READ MORE: Wynne demands teachers’ unions provide receipts for $2.5 million payouts
New Democrat Taras Natyshak said it’s “quite common” for unions to have rainy day funds, so it’s up to the government to know what the funds are being used for in the context of bargaining.
Meanwhile, a tentative agreement that Ontario reached with elementary teachers may have ended their work-to-rule campaign, but it still won’t be mandatory for them to do parent-teacher interviews.
The deal, reached Monday with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, put an end to an administrative strike the teachers began in May and had recently escalated to include withdrawing from extracurricular activities.
But while the teachers will now be preparing full progress reports, including comments, the union said teachers won’t be forced to accept parent requests for parent-teacher meetings.
READ MORE: Ontario government continues to defend payouts to teachers’ unions
A spokeswoman for the union said interviews “will be initiated at the teacher’s discretion if the teacher identifies a concern about a child’s progress.”
The Toronto Star reported that the government agreed to the move as a compromise with ETFO in order to reach a deal.
Matthews said that teachers are professionals who consider engaging with parents part of their job.
“I would say to any parent who wants to contact their kids’ teachers to go ahead and do that and I have every expectation teachers will engage with parents,” she said.