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Education Minister Liz Sandals defends teachers union payments

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is facing more questions Monday over revelations that her government paid education unions nearly $4 million to help cover negotiating costs that are usually paid for with union dues in recent years.

Government has paid teachers unions nearly $4 million for negotiating costs since 2008

There was a heated exchange in Ontario's Question Period between opposition leader Patrick brown and Liz Sandals, education minister, about union payments. 0:45

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is facing more questions Monday over revelations that her government paid education unions nearly $4 million to help cover negotiating costs that are usually paid for with union dues in recent years.

Education Minister Liz Sandals said last week the multi-million-dollar payouts to unions were to cover costs such as meeting rooms and food during negotiations for new teachers contracts. When pressed for a detailed list of expenses, Sandals said unions weren't asked to provide receipts for the expenses.

"We know what the meeting rooms cost. We know what the food costs. We know what 100 pizzas costs," she said.

In Question Period this morning, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said Sandals's statement falls short of explaining the expenditure.

"I'm not sure where the minister buys her pizza, but the pepperoni must be gold-plated," he said.

Wynne said this year's $2.5-million payments to teachers unions is a special case. Sandals told Brown in Question Period that the Mike Harris government similarly supported unions during bargaining processes when his government was in power. 

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was pressed in Question Period Monday about her government's payments to teachers unions. (Marta Iwanek/Canadian Press)

"There hasn't been a provincial bargaining system in place before, this is the first time," she said.

Sandals is calling the payouts a "rather large investment" to get them to the bargaining table.

Sandals has defended the payments to the unions representing secondary teachers, English Catholic teachers and French teachers as being necessary because the transition to a new bargaining system made this round quite lengthy.

Sandals said today after question period that the purpose of the payments is "to support the meetings taking place."

Not unprecedented, says Wynne

She says for a transformation to work the first step is "to get the people into the building and committed to making the process work by being there, and in this case that's been a rather large investment."

The government revealed it paid $1.24 million to education unions for bargaining in 2008 and 2012 late on Friday. During that time, there were informal discussions as a precursor to the Liberal government enacting the new bargaining process.

The ministry has said that because those discussions were voluntary, it was appropriate to pay for the unions' participation — and this year it was necessary to help pay their costs to ensure a smooth transition to the new system.

Wynne said it's not unprecedented for a party in the private or the public sector to assist unions with the cost of collective bargaining.

Deputy Premier Deb Matthews told CBC Monday the government has not paid any other provincial public-sector unions money to cover their bargaining costs.

With files from CBC's Mike Crawley and The Canadian Press

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