TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government insisted Wednesday that despite a $300-million price tag to set up new benefit trusts for teachers, their recent contracts are “net zero.”
The nine central teachers’ and education workers’ contracts include a total of $402 million in salary increases, which is approximately the amount of savings the government says it is getting through changes to previously banked sick day payouts, cancelling some deferred spending, delaying salary grid bumps and other measures.
The government trumpeted the deals as being “net zero” when they were reached, mostly last fall, but the extra cost was revealed this week as the contracts were made public.
Establishing five health, life and dental trusts for the teachers and education workers will cost $175 million, with a further $125 million needed to consolidate the more than 1,000 existing plans, the government said.
That money doesn’t count in the assessment that the contracts are “net zero,” said Education Minister Liz Sandals.
“We have always said increases to compensation will be offset by other savings,” she said.
“This isn’t a compensation cost. Nobody’s ending up with money in their pocket as a result of this. This is an investment, which over time, will allow us to administer things more cheaply to even benefits out.”
But it will be a while before the new plans will save taxpayers money, Sandals said.
“It would be after we’ve got it set up, which will take several years, and then a few more years out before we would start to see savings,” she said.
“Yes, there are some start-up costs, but it’s a little bit like when you build a highway. You build the highway and you use it then for a long, long time, so there’s an investment up front.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she’s not sure that’s what people thought the government meant by “net zero.”
“Obviously the government was selling an idea to Ontarians about net zeros, but again, when the onion is peeled back, when the layers are peeled back it’s obvious that that’s not what they were doing,” she said.
Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod asked in question period Wednesday, “How does net zero equal $300 million?”
“I know the premier is not an accountant, but that’s 300 million more dollars than she told this house,” she said.
A summary of $1 million in bargaining expenses that the government is covering for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’
Federation was also released Wednesday. The union submitted details of its expenses to an independent auditor, but those are not being made public.
Only total amounts spent in seven categories are being released.
More than $660,000 was spent on accommodations and travel. More than $141,000 was spent on meals and a further $109,000 was spent on meeting rooms.
The remaining expenses include telephone, video and Internet services, paying supply teachers to cover the classrooms of teachers at the bargaining table and $12,353 in “miscellaneous” expenses.
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the French teachers’ union, who were promised $1 million and $500,000 respectively for bargaining costs, will provide their expenses once their local agreements are all reached. The costs were covered because this round of bargaining was the first under a new system and therefore especially lengthy, Sandals has said.