TORONTO — Ontario spent more than $44 million preparing for a correctional and probation workers' strike that never happened, The Canadian Press has learned.
The Liberal government has publicly said it spent $8.5 million on training and renovating spaces in the province's jails in the event that managers had to run the facilities on a 24-hour basis during a strike.
But an itemized list of strike preparation expenditures requested by The Canadian Press through the Freedom of Information Act shows the estimated total is actually $44,380,472.45.
Nearly $32 million of that was spent on one-time expenses, including accommodations for managers and private security.
Monte Vieselmeyer, chair of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union's corrections division, said the money was "poorly spent."
"The employer was preparing for a strike as opposed to coming to the bargaining table and bargaining fairly," he said. "So from my perspective, it was a waste of money and padded pockets of managers for no purpose."
Less than a third of the total was spent on items that were ultimately repurposed for regular use in correctional facilities, such as $3.2 million worth of food and beverages, $1.1 million for beds, mattresses and partitions, $866,000 in medical supplies and equipment, and $776,000 in safety and security equipment.
Progressive Conservative critic Rick Nicholls said it's "another example of wasteful spending and a lack of transparency by the Wynne Liberals."
"It's clear Premier Wynne's Liberals can't be trusted with taxpayer dollars," Nicholls said Tuesday in a statement.
A three-year deal reached Jan. 9 with 6,000 correctional and probation officers averted a threatened strike, but by that time correctional managers and managers from across the public service had already been brought in to the jails.
The document pegs the cost of redeploying 2,000 managers at about $6.7 million.
About $15.8 million was spent on trailers placed on the jail grounds where managers would live during a strike. Another half a million dollars was spent on storage trailers for "cook-chill" meals and $286,000 went to "storage rental costs."
A further $2.4 million was spent on a logistics co-ordination supplier and $2.2 million on "loading and unloading costs."
More than $660,000 spent on security services that went "to provide security guards at the institutions, who were responsible for monitoring the perimeter and providing escorts," said Lauren Souch, a spokeswoman for Correctional Services Minister David Orazietti.
Another $494,000 was spent on training those managers, including de-escalation, offender programs and services, "culture and gender responsivity," health and safety, inmate discipline, fire safety and emergency protocols.
More than $8 million was spent on infrastructure, with about $5.5 million of that spent on permanent upgrades, such as electrical improvements, programming spaces and washroom improvements. The rest went to supporting installation and non-permanent site improvements, such as hooking up the temporary trailers to electricity, gas and sewage.
Souch said it would have been "irresponsible" to compromise the health and safety of the more than 8,000 inmates and 50,000 people on probation across the province in the event of a strike.
"It was only prudent to have contingency plans in place to ensure safety of our institutions and the public in the event of a labour disruption in our correctional facilities," she said in a statement.
"Every effort was made to ensure costs to taxpayers were minimized while ensuring the highest standards of public safety and security. Additionally, all contingency planning decisions were assessed with the lens of how investments could be repurposed and integrated into daily operations and long-term improvements to our facilities."
There was certainly a need to prepare to keep people safe, said NDP critic Jennifer French, but many of these expenses seem like "wanton spending."
"If they have that kind of money to spend it could have been better spent strengthening a failing system," she said.
The corrections deal included agreeing to interest arbitration for future contracts, meaning there won't be another strike threat in the next round of bargaining, the government noted.
Wage issues were sent to an arbitrator, and correctional officers will be getting 4.4 per cent raises next year after an arbitrator ruled their salaries had fallen behind those of their federal counterparts and police officers. Probation officers will get 3.4 per cent raises.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
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