December 12, 2016 2:47 pm
Updated: December 13, 2016 11:58 am

Child care costs in Canada: The most and least expensive cities

WATCH: The cost of child care has skyrocketed, especially in Canada’s biggest cities. In Toronto, some parents are paying out nearly $1,650 dollars a month to have their kids looked after. As Allison Vuchnich reports, for an increasing number of parents, going back to work just doesn’t make financial sense.

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The latest study on child-care costs conducted by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has been released and the tallies don’t look good.

Examining the median costs of child care (for infants, toddlers and preschoolers) in Canada’s 28 biggest cities, the study finds the most expensive centres are Toronto and Vancouver, while the least costly are cities in Quebec, as well as Winnipeg.

Since first starting to monitor these costs in 2014, the rise in rates clock in at more than three times the rate of inflation, climbing up an average of 8 per cent over the same time period. This means that some parents may find themselves paying $1,000 more per year per child than they did two years ago.

“These numbers are a bit of a mystery, to be honest,” says David Macdonald, CCPA senior economist and co-author of the study. “The key determinant depends on the province. The cities that have set fees are much more affordable than those whose child-care centres are market-driven. But it’s still not clear why they go up. By next year, we’ll try to get deeper into this.”

READ MORE: ‘Not enough spaces’: Families share child care wait-list nightmares

The highest fees are for infant care (there are also fewer spaces for infants than other age categories).

In Toronto, infant costs average at $1,649 per month, which adds up to $19,788 a year (more than twice a university tuition). The surrounding suburbs of Markham and Vaughan are comparable at $1,454 and $1,363 per month respectively, while the lowest rates are found in Montreal and average $164 per month.

Overall, the lowest fees are in Quebec, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island — provinces that provide base funding to service providers — although a 2015 change in Quebec to a sliding scale system for fees based on income saw costs rise 18 per cent. It still remains the least expensive centre in the country, however.

READ MORE: Paternity leave is great, but child care policy still needed: experts

Adding to Quebec’s low costs is the fact that the province doesn’t charge different fees for respective age categories, which means infant fees are especially lower than in other provinces.

Toddler and preschool fees saw the largest average rise in costs between 2014 and 2016 — 8 per cent — which is a striking figure considering inflation over the same period was only 2.5 per cent.

The most expensive cities include Toronto ($1,375 per month), Vancouver ($1,325) and Richmond ($1,210). Once again, despite an 18 per cent increase in fees, the lowest rates were found in Quebec, with Montreal averaging $164 per month, and the cities of Longueuil, Laval, Gatineau and Quebec City coming in at $179. The next inexpensive centre was Winnipeg ($451).

When it comes to finding care for preschoolers, Toronto takes the top spot at $1,150 per month, followed closely by Kitchener, Calgary, Vaughan, Markham, Ottawa, Mississauga and London all of which average $1,000 a month. Again, Montreal and Winnipeg count the lowest average fees at $164 and $451 respectively.

“The most predictable ways to tamper these costs is for the provincial governments to set fees,” Macdonald says.

“One of the things that’s absolutely clear from everything we know is that there has to be more government money because market costs for child care do not work for families,” Martha Friendly, executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit said to the Canadian Press. “They can’t afford them.”

READ MORE: More than 1,800 B.C. childcare spaces created with province’s $11 million infusion

The federal government has allotted $500 million for child care for the coming year, with improving affordability as a potential focus. Even though some provinces offset fees with subsidies for low income families, out-of-pocket fees can still be high. In Saskatoon and Calgary, they are almost $500 a month for preschoolers.

“Spacing children is now a decision that parents face,” Macdonald says. “In Toronto, if you have an infant and a toddler, the median expense of childcare is $36,000 per year. The other thing to consider is to move. In Ontario, it can be a real issue when you consider that in Ottawa parents pay $1,000 per month while in Gatineau it’s $179 and it’s just across the river.”

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