Ontario’s auditor general opened the education ministry’s books to examine $3.8 million in payments to unions, but was “surprised” to find an additional $80 million in funding, about a quarter of that with “no strings attached.”

Bonnie Lysyk had been asked to investigate money the government paid unions representing teachers and education workers over the past three rounds of negotiations, which were longer than normal due to a new bargaining system.

Lysyk said in a report released Wednesday that those payments were unusual, but within the government’s authority. The concerns raised about the payments, revealed in media reports, were “understandable,” Lysyk wrote.

“These arrangements initially lacked accountability and the controls usually associated with government funding,” she wrote. Only after the auditor’s office was asked to investigate did the government ask the unions for expense reports, she said.

The auditor’s office was unable to find evidence of any other government in Canada paying for bargaining costs of education-sector unions.

Going back to 2000, Lysyk said her office was “surprised to learn that the government had given teachers’ unions other sums totalling more than $80 million.” An additional $6.8 million was given to school boards to provide to the French teachers’ union for professional development, Lysyk found.

Of the $80.5 million, Lysyk said $22 million was provided with “no strings attached,” and the remainder was largely earmarked for teachers’ professional development. The rest of the money went to benefits, research and initiatives such as school safety and eliminating discrimination.

“The ministry has little information as to what these funds were actually used for,” she wrote. “One might reasonably ask why such funds were not provided to various school boards throughout the province for their own locally determined professional development needs.”