The sky-high cost of child care in Ontario could persist through the summer months as several municipalities continue to overhaul their licensed daycare operations to offer $10-a-day daycare by 2025.
In the 11 weeks since the Ontario government signed a $13.2-billion deal with the federal government, observers say municipalities have been scrambling to create a new program before a September deadline — leading to finger-pointing over who’s to blame for the log-jam.
“I would put the responsibility for this squarely on the province for why it took so long,” said Carolyn Ferns with the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care. “I don’t think that a few months of planning and rollout time is that long. You have to understand, this is a rejigging of the entire way that child-care services management is functioning.”
So where, exactly, is the money that parents expected to receive in the form of a rebate cheque in May?
Officials with the Ministry of Education, speaking on background, insist that the province has already “released funding allocations to municipalities” and is now waiting on cities to funnel the funds to child-care operators.
“Operators need to apply to the program through municipalities and the money will flow to operators from municipalities,” an official told Global News.
The province said several municipalities, such as Durham, Sault Ste. Marie, Greater Sudbury and Manitoulin-Sudbury, are now allowing daycare providers to apply for funding, but did not say how many operators have actually signed up or how many parents in these regions have actually received a cheque.
Other municipalities, such as the City of Toronto, which lists more than 1,000 child-care operators in its network, are still working on implementation and have yet to open the application process.
Shanley McNamee, the general manager of Toronto’s children’s services, said initial details including the Ministry of Education guidelines, eligibility and timelines have already been shared with operators, while a town hall meeting is being planned on June 22 to discuss the opt-in options.
“The process for operators to opt-in will be launched later this month, at which point operators will be able to submit their application to opt-in to this funding program,” McNamee said in a statement.
What’s unclear, however, is how many child-care operators will actually participate in the program. Multiple private, for-profit daycare owners told Global News they are still sitting on the sidelines awaiting more information on exactly how the money would be applied and the implications of entering into a contract with a municipal government.
“They’re absolutely right to be wondering, ‘What does this mean for me?'” Ferns said. “Right now they have a set of funding guidelines which just says this is what the province is doing and the municipalities are going to have discretion to determine a reasonable cost for your program.
“Until a child-care centre sees a contract or something that says, ‘Here’s the format and this is what you’re signing onto,’ they’re not going to know what that means for their program.”
Critics of the government said all this flies in the face of a pledge made by the Ford government that parents would be receiving rebate cheques in May.
“This deal will immediately reduce the cost of child care in Ontario and provide refunds,” Premier Doug Ford said when the deal was signed in March.
The NDP’s Marit Stiles, who served as the education critic prior to the election, called on the premier to prioritize parents and fulfill a pre-election promise.
“If there are barriers in place, which there seem to be, this provincial government needs to address them and they need to address them urgently because families need that relief right now,” Stiles said.
While the silver lining for parents is the rebates would be retroactive to April 1, advocates warned families to temper their expectations.
“The bad news is it’s going to be longer than the premier told them,” Ferns said.