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Ontario Minister Defends Using Exaggerated Claim To Shame Union

Stephen Lecce says the number he used is accurate if one union’s demand is given to all teachers and education workers.
Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce speaks at a press conference in Toronto on Oct. 6, 2019.
Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce speaks at a press conference in Toronto on Oct. 6, 2019.

TORONTO — Ontario’s education minister is defending his statement that a high school teachers’ union wants $1.5 billion in raises, even though his own ministry says the cost to give them the raise they’ve asked for would be $294 million.

Minister Stephen Lecce is warring with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), whose members plan to walk off the job for a one-day strike Wednesday.

Earlier: Teachers’ Federation takes issue with Lecce’s $1.5 billion figure. Story continues after the video.

If OSSTF’s members get their demand for annual raises that are tied to the cost of living and a six-per cent funding increase for benefits, Ontario will be spending $293.9 million more per year by 2021/22, according to figures provided by Lecce’s staff Tuesday.

The cost would only rise to more than $1.5 billion if the Ontario government gives the same deal to all other teachers and education workers represented by different unions, the figures show.

‘$1.5-billion expenditure to the taxpayer’

“The impact of their request is a $1.5-billion expenditure for the taxpayer. That is accurate,” Lecce said Tuesday at a press conference at Queen’s Park. “They choose not to consider the impact outside of OSSTF as if they live in isolation to the other unions … but they don’t.”

A recent agreement between Ontario and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents support staff, includes a so-called “me too” clause to guarantee those workers the same raises as teachers if a teachers’ union negotiates a better deal.

But the government hasn’t reached new agreements with any of the four major teachers unions, so it is yet to be seen whether other contracts will include the same clause.

Lecce’s government has passed a bill that limits raises for public-sector workers to one per cent per year. OSSTF wants a salary increase for its members that is tied to inflation, which would be about two per cent per year.

On Friday, Lecce said OSSTF should be “shamed” for its “unacceptable” demand for $1.5 billion more in compensation.

In response, OSSTF president Harvey Bischof told reporters the minister was just trying to turn up the heat on unions.

“This minister is intent on inflating the number, ratcheting up the rhetoric, which is the opposite of good-faith bargaining,” Bischof said. “It concerns me very much that his desire right now is to demonize my members.”

He said the chance of avoiding a strike Wednesday, which will affect dozens of school boards, was “almost none.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the numbers released by Lecce’s office Tuesday were designed to worry and confuse the public.

“Every time Mr. Lecce stands at this podium, his made-up numbers get bigger,” Horwath said at her own press conference.

Elementary teachers in Ontario’s English public schools ramped up their own job action Tuesday.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario moved into a new phase of work-to-rule, saying that teachers would not plan field trips or distribute letters and memos from schools and school boards.

With a file from The Canadian Press

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