Another week, another major policy announcement from the Liberal government. This time, it relates to child care in Ontario. The minister of Early Years and Child Care announced a $1.6 billion plan to create 45,000 new licensed day cares in the province last week.
Though the plan is scant on details, the minister claims it will set Ontario, “on a path towards a universally accessible child care system.” The plan would be rolled out over the next five years.
The Cost of Child Care in Ontario
Like hydro and housing costs, early child care has become an increasingly painful thorn in the side of Ontario families. Fees have gone up an average of 8% since 2014, with median monthly fees reaching up to $1,649 for child care in Ontario. For some families, it costs more each year to send their kids to daycare than to university.
The billion-dollar plan aims to increase access to high-quality, licensed child care by funding new daycare spaces and providing subsidies to families in need. The government has also said it will consider changing the threshold for subsidies, which are currently unavailable to most middle-income families.
The cost of child care has been an issue for years now, but it has been difficult to ignore in light of recent events. In April, an unlicensed childcare provider was convicted in the death of a 2-year-old girl. The home daycare had operated for years without the required licence. The girl’s parents, along with those of the other 35 children who crowded the home, could not afford to place their children in a licensed facility.
Will the Plan Work?
Few would argue that the current state of licensed child care in Ontario is feasible, with families shelling out as much or more for daycare than they are for their monthly mortgages. But to some, the timing of this announcement is suspect.
This marks the third big-ticket policy move from the Liberal government in just a few months. The government made changes to residential tenancy law to protect renters in the province back in April. It also announced plans to bring in universal pharma-care for people under 25 years of age. Now, Kathleen Wynne has promised $1.6 billion to help families afford child care.
Regardless of whether you support these initiatives, it’s hard not to see it as a cynical appeal to voters in the upcoming provincial election. The campaign doesn’t start when the writ drops —in fact, it seems that it never stops in the first place.
A five-year child care plan can only come to fruition if the Liberals form the next government. It’s unlikely the Progressive Conservatives would keep the ambitious and expensive program if they came to power in Ontario. With the Wynne government trailing in the polls, parents and parents-to-be would be warned against banking on this promise.
We saw the same thing back in 2006, when the federal Liberals lost out to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. A year prior, then-PM Paul Martin made plans to invest $5 billion in a universal child care system across Canada. That plan was snuffed just as soon as Harper ascended to power. There has been little talk of a Canada-wide childcare plan since then.