Taxpayers Should be Skeptical of Ontario Government’s Claims that Teacher’s Deals are “Net Zero”

Liz Sandals

 

The province is calling the tentative deals it has reached with the unions for public and Catholic English high school teachers’ “net zero” deals.

You may be asking how a three-year contract for the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation (OSSTF) that includes pay hikes totalling 2.5 per cent over the next two years is a “net zero” increase.  Or how OSSTF’s additional paid day off during the school year, and additional sick leave including doubling maximum sick days for substitute teachers from 60 to 120 days, are “net zero” benefits.

Both good questions.

As is wondering why the province won’t be making any of the changes it fought for around flexible class size – thereby increasing the cost of hiring additional teachers.

So how can these wage and benefit hikes be described by Minister Liz Sandals as “net zero”?

A “net zero” agreement, in theory, means that any increases to wages or benefits will be offset by savings found elsewhere.  However, the details of the agreements remain secret until the deals are ratified by the union’s membership.

As a result, taxpayers have no way of knowing if these are real savings or hypothetical ones, or what part of the education budget is funding these wage increases.  That is, if the agreements are even truly “net zero.”

The premier is even refusing to call the wage hikes an increase in compensation at all. She had previously said that there isn’t “new money for the education sector for us to put in place increases in compensation,” and is now caught in her own words trying to explain how a pay raise is not an increase in compensation.

You’ll be forgiven if you don’t follow, and if you are skeptical about where the money for these pay hikes will come from.

The Drummond Report called for growth in the education budget to be constrained to 1 per cent per year.  This target is tough to achieve without restraint in teacher’s compensation, which makes up over three-quarters of the education sector budget.

Because wages already make up a tremendous proportion of the overall education budget, “net zero” savings will come from other parts of the budget that might otherwise be spent on children’s classrooms and resources.

That is, if the savings exist at all.

The last time the province negotiated with the teachers union they legislated a pay freeze, but then Kathleen Wynne managed to reopen the contracts and find a way of funnelling $468 million back to the unions, just in time for the provincial election.

And despite Drummond’s calls for restraint of 1 per cent growth per year, the annual growth rate in the education budget has been 2.18 per cent since 2012-13, even with declining enrollment.

With a deficit of $8.5 billion, and the province spending almost a billion dollars a month on interest alone, the fiscal environment in Ontario demands restraint, and a premier with an honest commitment to controlled spending.

Kathleen Wynne isn’t even being honest about whether teachers’ compensation is increasing.  And this deal does not guarantee that there won’t be strikes at the local level, where the unions have not reached agreements with the local boards on administrative issues.

Taxpayers are right to be skeptical of this deal, which comes with no transparency.  Premier Wynne and Minister Sandals need to explain how they managed to reach a so-called “net zero” deal that includes raises.  They need to assure the public that they’ve protected our wallets and our children by providing details of this deal.

 

Christine Van Geyn is the Ontario Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF). The CTF is Canada’s leading non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group fighting for lower taxes, less waste and accountable government. Founded in 1990, the CTF has more than 84,000 supporters and seven offices across Canada. The CTF is funded by free-will, non tax-receiptable contributions.

 

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