If someone gave you $80.5 million dollars, you'd probably feel pretty good about them. You may want to shout it from the rooftops that you think they're great -- and you may even be willing to pay a million dollars or two to shout it, especially if it meant the money would keep rolling in.
In essence, that's what auditor general Bonnie Lysyk found was happening in Ontario with the Wynne government's secret payments to teachers' unions.
Back in October 2015 it was revealed that the government had paid $3.7 million since 2008 to cover the bargaining costs of three unions. The auditor general conducted an investigation into the payments, and it turns out $3.7 million was just the tip of the iceberg.
The total amounts paid by the government to teachers union organizations is astounding: since 2000, $80.5 million in taxpayer money has been funneled to teachers' organizations.
This includes $45.7 million directly to unions and $34.8 million to the union-governed Ontario Teachers' Federation. Of that amount, $22 million was given with "no strings attached" -- without any of the accountability controls that are usually associated with government funding.
The auditor general's report reveals just how little credibility Wynne and Education Minister Liz Sandals have.
The auditor general found that the most recent 2014-15 payments of $2.5 million in taxpayer money being sent directly to unions contained "no accountability provisions ... the unions would not have to provide receipts or expense statements to receive money."
It was only after the deals became a public controversy and after the Standing Committee of Public Accounts requested an audit of the scandal by the auditor general that the government told the unions they would need to provide an expense report.
Presumably, if the story had never become public, the $2.5-million cheque would have been quietly slipped to the unions without bothering with pesky receipts. After all, who likes filling out expense reports?
The auditor general's report reveals just how little credibility Wynne and Education Minister Liz Sandals have. When the initial scandal broke, premier Wynne defended the payments as temporary, "one-time costs." Not so, according to the auditor general, whose report revealed that these payments have been going on for over a decade.
Wynne also suggested that covering the other side's bargaining costs is standard practice in both government and non-government sectors. This defies common sense -- after all, if you bear none of the costs associated with a long negotiation, you'd be inclined to draw the process out as long as possible to get the best deal.
It also defies real-world reality. Labour experts have confirmed that it is absolutely not normal practice for an employer to reimburse unions for their costs of bargaining. Unions collect dues for that very reason.
Further, the auditor general found that Ontario is an "outlier" in Canada for having made the payments at all, and that such payments are not even common in Ontario among other government employee unions. The teachers' unions truly are kings among princes.
And with the quid pro quo we have seen between this government and these unions, it's no wonder why.
Wynne gives tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to teachers unions, who then turn around and donate to the Liberal party and run campaign ads during elections. The Liberal party is effectively piping taxpayer money to itself in a roundabout way through these unions, and then telling the public it's just the normal price of doing business. The auditor general's report confirms nothing about this is normal.
Wynne and her party need to repay the millions of dollars it secretly funneled to their political allies at these unions. It's our money, after all.
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