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Ontario saved $40-million on wages during teachers' strikes last year

Secondary school teachers in Peel take to the picket lines, May 4, 2015. 680 NEWS/Carl Hanstke

The Ontario government says it saved $40 million when high school teachers in three boards went on strike for several weeks last year.

In response to questions on Monday from the NDP, Education Minister Liz Sandals said part of the reason for lower-than-expected spending was that teachers who go on strike don’t get paid.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had pointed to a line in the budget that showed education spending was $430 million less than projected in the fall economic statement, accusing the Liberal government of cutting education spending.

Sandals replied that education funding in total was actually increasing, but that drop was due in part to the amortization of capital costs, but also the job actions last spring.

“We didn’t project a strike,” she said. “We didn’t pay the people who went on strike.”

Sandals said Monday after question period that most of that $430 million was actually due to lower-than-projected enrolment, as well as the accounting of capital spending and the strike savings.

But her office wasn’t able to say until four days later how much of the $430 million was attributable to not paying striking teachers.

More than 70,000 high school students in the Toronto-area regions of Durham and Peel and the Sudbury-area Rainbow District were out of class for weeks as their teachers went on strikes that were ultimately ended when the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled them illegal.

The government may have saved millions in wages while teachers were on strike, but it also spent about $3.74 million making payments to some unions.

The Liberals agreed to pay $2.5 million this year to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the French teachers’ union to cover negotiating costs during the first round of bargaining under a new system.

In 2008 and 2012 a total of $1.24 million was paid to OSSTF, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents support workers, and the French teachers’ union.

Sandals has answered questions about those payments by promising to release the agreements once all are finalized.

The last central education-sector deal was ratified six weeks ago. Sandals said in late January that she was looking at how to release those details without disrupting ongoing local negotiations.