An assertion from Premier Dalton McGuinty that the Toronto police board was overly generous in awarding officers an 11.5 per cent pay hike has drawn a sharp rebuke from chair Alok Mukherjee.
In an open letter released Tuesday afternoon, the normally benign Mukherjee both defended the board’s recent deal with the association and turned the tables on the Premier, blaming the province for the escalating cost of police contracts.
“With great respect, I must say that decisions made at the provincial level are largely responsible for this deal…. The province has repeatedly taken steps to set a pattern of steadily increasing costs in policing. It is in this context that we are left to negotiate a reasonable collective agreement.”
Because the Toronto police department has essential service status, when contract negotiations broke down in 2008, the matter went to a provincial arbitrator, who controversially awarded the police a 10 per cent pay hike by 2010.
The arbitrator acknowledged that while the city was facing financial challenges, the amount was in keeping with contracts given to other Ontario police forces.
The police board has long struggled to manage its rapidly ballooning budget of $905.9 million (net). About 90 per cent is dedicated to salaries, benefits and other contract commitments.
In his letter, Mukherjee pointed to the province’s 2010 agreement with the OPP — reached without arbitration — that gave provincial officers a minimum 14.06 per cent raise by 2014.
This settlement set the precedent for the province, said the chair.
“Our province has a long history of driving up the costs of policing through deals given to the OPP,” he said in the letter.
If negotiations in Toronto had gone to an arbitrator, the OPP deal would be the benchmark. For this reason, the board felt it was being financially prudent in agreeing to a four-year contract that will see officers receive a 3.19 per cent hike this year, 3 per cent over the next two years and a 2 per cent increase in 2014, as well as some additional benefits.
The deal, which has not yet been ratified, will make Toronto officers the highest paid in the country.
Not only is the province negotiating expensive deals, he complained, but it refuses to fix its arbitration system, despite repeated requests from municipalities and police services across the province.
“The province has the ability to change the rules for arbitration. It has long been established that arbitrators replicate negotiated agreements. A municipality’s ability to pay… receive little, if any, consideration,” said Mukherjee. “We will move forward with our tentative agreement, which is far more cost-effective and realistic than that of the OPP.”
Mukherjee penned the letter in response to comments made by the Premier last Friday.
McGuinty was on damage control last week after it surfaced 38,000 provincial workers were given an additional 1 per cent pay increase. The hike included in the 2008 deal with the Ontario Public Service Employees was not initially apparent.
McGuinty told reporters the increases were negotiated prior to the recession and amounted to an 8.75 per cent increase over four years.
“We hear the City of Toronto has got 11.5 per cent, I think, for the police over the course of four years. You tell me who is getting the best deal for taxpayers, if you ask me, we got the best deal,” he told reporters.
Currently, a first-class OPP constable earns $ 83,483.00. In Toronto, the same rank officer will make about $83,840 if the tentative agreement is ratified.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s office responded to Mukherjee’s letter with a chart showing OPP wage increases versus Toronto police increases.
“OPP contracts with the province are not driving the Toronto police contract as alleged. In fact, the province has been playing catch-up. Generally, municipal agreements overall have been trending at least 0.5 percentage points higher than provincial ones,” Andrew Chornenky, Duncan’s spokesperson, said in a statement.
Asked to respond, Mukherjee said Chornenky’s chart failed to include bonus retention pay, pension benefits and a guarantee that as of 2014 they will be the highest paid in Ontario.
“The highest paid in 2014 was and is not a matter of catch up. Making their pension better than every other police service is not a matter of catch up. In years when you give a seemingly lower general increase — 2009 and 2010 — but increase their retention pay, it’s not a matter of catch up,” said Mukherjee.