The child care crisis in Ontario has reached new heights— wait lists that span years, fees that cost more than mortgage payments, and poor compensation for early childhood educators and other staff has fueled a labour shortage in the sector made much worse by the pandemic. Yet, the Ontario Ford government continues to delay the signing of a funding agreement with the Government of Canada to transfer $10.2 billion of federal funds to Ontario to build a publicly funded and managed system of early learning and child care that would create tens of thousands of new child care spaces and drop parent fees to $10 a day.
With the recent signing of a funding agreement between the province of Alberta and the federal government–the ninth jurisdiction to do so–pressure is mounting on the government of Ontario to act.
Ontario’s Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, told the media that the federal government’s offer of $10.2 billion is short-changing Ontario. Yet, Ontario’s share is calculated using the same formula used to determine the federal funds for all other jurisdictions.
Minister Lecce also said that Ontario deserves special federal credit and presumably compensation for the province’s full-day four and five year old kindergarten program, which almost all parents choose over other early learning and child care arrangements in large part because it is universally accessible, inclusive, and free. However, the federal government’s early learning and child care funds announced in the 2021 federal budget were never intended to replace current provincial spending on early childhood education and care, nor should they. The point of the federal initiative is to expand the existing supply of regulated child care, bring down parent fees, and address the workforce crisis in the child care sector. The point is to help families and do more for children, not to help the Ontario government recover costs. Besides, Ontario is not unique in funding public education programs for children under the age of six, yet no other province has demanded, or is receiving compensation for its spending on these programs.
Child care advocates have been joined by many other powerful voices in their call for Ontario to take the federal government’s offer so that the money can be put to work building a proper system of early learning and child care. The municipal governments of Niagara, Hamilton, Halton, Ottawa, and Toronto have called on the Ontario government to join in building the Canada-wide system of early learning and child care in cooperation with the federal government. Also, municipal governments want a say in the system design, which is understandable given the important role Ontario municipalities already play in the child care sector, and given how important child care is to local economic development, and the economic security of families who reside in their cities.
Carolyn Ferns, of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, and a member of Child Care Now’s Board of Directors, says, “For years, we called on the federal government to step up with real funding to move ahead on child care and they finally did that this year. To see the funds being held back by Ontario playing politics is, frankly, disappointing. I think that that’s the same frustration that we’re now seeing from municipalities.”
To help keep the pressure on the Ford government to sign an Ontario-Canada child care funding agreement, please sign the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care’s petition, and if you are a resident of Ontario please contact your Member of Provincial Parliament to explain why an agreement is important to you.