Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised to offer free licensed child care for pre-school children starting in 2020 as part of the government’s budget to be released on Wednesday.
The new initiative, which is touted by the Ontario Liberals as a first in Canada, enables children between the age of two-and-a-half and entering kindergarten to access full-day child care for free.
“This is going to make a huge difference for parents in Ontario,” Wynne said during the announcement at Nelson Mandela Park Public School in Toronto on Tuesday.
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“Women are going to decide to have a second baby or have a third baby because this change will be in place.”
The government said this will save parents on average about $17,000 per child.
Wynne said the free child care offering will cost $930 million in 2020-21 as part of the province’s $2.2-billion investment over three years to expand child care.
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The province expects around 125,000 more pre-school aged children would be able to access full-day child care by 2020.
“No more anxiety about costs and the freedom to choose when it’s time for mom or dad to go back to work,” Wynne said.
“This is a big change. It’s a $2.2-billion investment and it’s absolutely the right thing to do. We’re playing the long game here folks. This is an investment in the people of this province.”
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To support the expansion of child care, Ontario will also be introducing a new wage grid for staff working in the early years and child care sector that will closely match those in full-day kindergarten.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath issued a statement on Tuesday blaming the Liberal government for driving up the cost of child care for the past 15 years.
“She drove up the price of childcare in Ontario until it was the most expensive in the nation,” Horwath said.
“If she was really going to make childcare more affordable, she would have done it already.”
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Horwath said Wynne’s plan applies only to a less-expensive age group and only for a short period of time.
“Lowering costs for anyone would be a welcome change – but this is not going to help women who want to return to work after parental leave,” she said.
“Families need a program that helps more than just those with children from two-and-a-half to about four years old.”
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The free child-care offering comes following a report released by economist Dr. Gordon Cleveland in February which looked at ways to improve affordability for parents.
“Fully two-thirds, 67 per cent, of the average mother’s after-tax income contribution to the family would be taken out to access licensed child care for her children,” Cleveland said.
“That’s a punishing financial burden. So it’s no wonder that many mothers stay out of the labour force for part of the time when children are young or cobble together arrangements and work part-time.”
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Cleveland said he hopes the province can further expand free child care to different age groups once staffing levels and capacity are up to par.
“Focusing on child care for pre-school children is the right place to start. Many Ontario children already use child care at that age so we reach more families by focusing on affordability at this age,” Cleveland said.
“And because Ontario already has substantial numbers of child-care spaces for pre-school children, the gap between supply and demand will be quicker and easier to fill at the pre-school age.”