TORONTO — Ontario's auditor general says the Liberal government has given teachers' unions more than $80 million since 2000, about a quarter of that with "no strings attached."
Bonnie Lysyk had been asked to investigate $3.8 million the government paid unions representing teachers and education workers over the past three rounds of bargaining, which were longer than normal due to a new bargaining system.
Lysyk said in a report released Wednesday that those payments were unusual, but within the government's authority. The concerns raised about the payments, revealed in media reports, were "understandable," Lysyk wrote.
Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario's auditor general, speaks about her 2015 annual report during a press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on Wednesday, December 2, 2015. (Photo: Darren Calabrese/CP)
"These arrangements initially lacked accountability and the controls usually associated with government funding," she wrote.
The auditor's office was unable to find evidence of any other government in Canada paying education-sector unions' bargaining costs.
Since 2000, the Ontario government gave $80.5 million to teachers' unions and the Ontario Teachers' Federation, Lysyk found. An additional $6.8 million was given to school boards to provide to the French teachers' union for professional development, Lysyk found.
Of the $80.5 million, Lysyk said $22 million was provided with "no strings attached" and the remainder was largely earmarked for teachers' professional development.
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"The ministry has little information as to what these funds were actually used for," she wrote. "One might reasonably ask why such funds were not provided to various school boards throughout the province for their own locally determined professional development needs."
Through three other provinces gave teachers' unions money for professional development in the last five years, Lysyk found, none paid more than $2 million in total.
Education Minister Liz Sandals defended funding professional development and said the payments were not taken out of classroom spending.
"We actually believe that when it comes to professional development that it's most effective if everybody is part of it," she said. "We fund school boards for professional development, we fund the directors' organization, we fund teacher organizations, we fund subject organizations, faculties of education, and yes, teachers unions."
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