Toronto, Sept. 21, 2023 – Ontario’s public broadcaster TVO is sitting on $17 million in long-term investments while its education workers enter their fifth week on strike for fair wages.
All companies need reserve funds in short-term investments to be sure they can cover accounts payable. But it’s both unusual and questionable that an arm’s-length agency of the provincial government would stash millions of dollars in longer-term investments, particularly when it’s cried poor to its employees, donors, and even the Ministry of Education.
And yet, according to financial statements from registered charity TVO – recently rebranded as TVO.me – the company purchased $17,000,000 in 5-year GICs (Guaranteed Investment Certificate) and PPNs (Principal Protected Notes) in August and September 2022.
That is $17 million on top of the $10 million in short-term GICs that TVO usually keeps on deposit.
That’s $17 million that cannot be used today, and won’t be available to be used in any capacity for another four years.
As the chart shows, TVO’s base funding has been declining for years. Its per-project funding spiked here and there, especially during the pandemic.
It seems the mystery money came to TVO from the government of Ontario during the pandemic, but was money TVO apparently didn’t need.
TVO CMG employees whose real wages have declined year over year for a decade would say otherwise. Contract workers who were refused benefits even as they worked tirelessly to get education resources online during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns would say otherwise.
What does TVO say about this massive, mysterious windfall? When asked, the reply was essentially: “Trust us.”
It all raises troubling questions.
What is the real purpose of TVO’s mystery millions?
Why is the government giving TVO money and not holding it accountable for either spending it or returning it?
Such funding is usually “use it or lose it.” Indeed, and again baffling to the employees who haven’t had a real wage increase in a decade, TVO has a spare $4 million it does plan to give back, even as it shows itself in deficit.
TVO describes itself as “an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Education and a not-for-profit, social impact charity.” Most people understand it to be the public broadcaster and the digital education partner of the Ontario government. However you describe it, it’s not an investment bank tasked with making the province more money through investments.
Is it using charitable donations for this investment? It’s remarkable that this locked-up cash totals more than the last three years of donations combined.
The fiscal picture is far from clear. Is TVO squirreling the $17M for itself? Or does the directive to put money in unusual places come from higher up the accountability chain? The Ministry of Education? The Minister? Even higher up? Taxpayers concerned with accountability and transparency need to know.
During the first (and ongoing) strike in the company’s 53-year history, TVO VP Mitch Patten repeatedly told the media that “government financial support for TVO has never been stronger.” Perhaps this is the fund he was referring to?
If so, the interest on just the GIC portion of the $17 million – at least $600,000 each year – would be more than enough to end the current labour dispute immediately, without touching a cent of other TVO money. So why is TVO forcing a “final offer” vote demanding yet another three years of real wage cuts, and refusing binding arbitration?
Why won’t it spend money it has on the employees who make the only things TVO is mandated to deliver to Ontario? Whose $17 million is it and who’s accountable for it?
Where do the bucks stop in Ontario these days?
Meredith Martin, TVO Branch President
Cara Stern, TVO Branch Vice President