Ontario signed a five-year, $10.2 billion day care deal with the federal government March 28. CNS photo/Theresa Laurence

Day-care deal leaves many behind, critics say

By 
  • April 10, 2022

Ontario has signed a five-year, $10.2-billion deal with the federal government to cut child-care fees in the province in half by the end of the year, fulfilling the Liberal government’s promise to bring in $10-a-day child care across Canada.

The Ontario government signed the deal with the federal government March 28, the last province to sign on to the national child-care plan that was a key part of the Liberals’ campaign in last year’s federal campaign.

The deal will see thousands of parents begin receiving rebates for licensed child-care fees in May and they can expect to see costs cut in half by the end of the year and bring the average cost of a child-care spot to $10 a day by 2025, say federal and provincial officials

The new national program however, has a number of stipulations attached to it and will only be available to families with children five and younger enrolled in licensed child-care centres. That has upset those who turn to other options for child care.

Christa (who asked that her last name not be used) is a mother with two children, age eight and six, registered in both morning and after care at a Toronto Catholic school. She is disappointed and says it will do little to nothing to help her family.

“I was anticipating some relief from this child-care deal because I assumed it covered all child care,” said Christa.

“I was upset to find out it would only impact families with children five and under.”

Peter Jon Mitchell is program director for Cardus Family, a Canadian research and educational think tank. He says while the instinct to make life more affordable for Ontario families is good, the deal falls short of meeting the needs in the province.

“I think families who are already using licensed care now are going to see a big reduction on the day-care costs,” said Mitchell. “For those families certainly they could see a significant savings even in the short term.”

But Mitchell argues since only licensed day cares qualify under the agreement, families using care outside of the licensed system such as nannies, relatives or neighbours will see no benefit.

Mitchell says the 86,000 new spaces promised in Ontario aren’t enough to cover all families with children under the age of six. With only enough spaces for about one-third of children within the age bracket, two-thirds will still be left without access to highly subsidized spaces.

With it taking about three to five years to create a new child-care space once approved, even if the goal of 86,000 new spaces in five years is met it will still only account for a 50-per-cent coverage rate for children in the province, he says.

The shortage of child care providers will also pose an issue. 

“The practical challenge is finding the workforce of early childhood caregivers that can meet those needs and fill the capacity that’s necessary for new spaces,” said Mitchell. “Typically I think what we’ve seen in Quebec and what I would expect to see in Ontario is because so few spots are highly subsidized, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on those spaces. Lots of people, few spaces. I think that’s going to create longer wait lists, certainly in the short to medium term.”

The agreement includes a commitment to increase wages for registered early childhood educators in Ontario to encourage more people into the industry. Minimum wage for program staff would be set at $18 an hour and $20 for supervisors, with both increasing by $1 per year, the federal government said.

Mitchell believes an option that put more money towards funding families directly, allowing them to take that money to the provider of their choice, would go a longer way in solving the affordability issue. Geared to income, it would be targeted towards benefitting lower-income families.

While he hoped the government would have worked to enhance the program already in place, Mitchell was happy to hear the existing child-care tax credit will remain, providing some relief to families that don’t use the types of child care the federal government is funding.

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