Teachers' unions weren't asked to provide any receipts or invoices before the Liberal government handed them $2.5 million for extra bargaining costs, because no such documentation was needed, the education minister said.

The government bargaining team knows the cost of renting rooms, the cost of travel, the cost of food, and how many people were involved in bargaining, so they were able to ballpark the unions' costs during the contract talks, Liz Sandals said Thursday.

"You're asking me if I have receipts and invoices, no I don't," she said after question period.

"We know how long we've been at the hotel. We know what hotel rooms cost. We know what the meeting rooms cost. We know what the food costs. We know what 100 pizzas costs. You don't need to see every bill when you're doing an estimate of costs." 

'The fact the government can throw around a million dollars like it means nothing is, in my opinion, insensitive to the fact that we have huge needs in Ontario and the government spends money frivolously.' Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown

Sandals was asked if that estimate turns out to have been incorrect, will she be asking the unions to return the difference?

"No," she said. "But I actually don't think I'm paying the full cost. They have costs far in excess of what we are
supporting."

The government agreed to pay the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association $1 million each, as well as $500,000 to the French teachers' union to compensate them for an extra long process under the Liberal government's new bargaining system.

The circumstances will not reoccur because in the next round of bargaining the parties won't have to start from scratch, hammering out each and every clause. Sandals said.

'Complete disrespect for taxpayers'

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, who asked Premier Kathleen Wynne during question period where that money came from -- she didn't answer -- said it's a "complete disrespect for taxpayers." 

"There has to be accounting," he said. "There has to be transparency. The fact the government can throw around a million dollars like it means nothing is, in my opinion, insensitive to the fact that we have huge needs in Ontario and the government spends money frivolously."

The three unions would not answer followup questions Thursday.

In the last provincial election, OSSTF, OECTA and the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario put $250,000 each toward third-party advertising from the Working Families coalition, a group of unions that comes together each election to run anti-Tory ads.

Sandals shrugged off the optics of giving money, receipt-free, to unions that arguably helped the Liberals win a majority.

"During the 2014 election when I was working in (my riding of) Guelph the teachers' unions weren't supporting me, so I don't know why you're assuming that there is some sort of connection here between being opposed to the Tories and supporting me," she said.

"That just doesn't actually factually exist."

ETFO, which has not yet reached a central contract with the government, announced Thursday that its members will be withdrawing from all voluntary extracurricular activities as of Wednesday to put pressure on Crown negotiators to return to the table.

Representatives of ETFO and support worker unions will meet with the premier and education minister tomorrow to discuss negotiations and impact of job actions

Canadian Press