Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford sign deal for $10-a-day child care in Ontario

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise of $10-a-day child care across Canada will be fulfilled after Premier Doug Ford secured a longer guarantee of federal funding for Ontario.

Ottawa has pledged $13.2 billion over six years — extending its initial five-year, $10.2-billion offer — to allay the province’s concerns that a future federal government might walk away from the shared program.

The funding change was enough to ensure Ontario, the last remaining holdout, joined the national program.

“Ontario … wanted in writing the deal for the sixth year, and we were happy to sign that because as you may remember when we announced this child-care funding, it was permanent funding,” Trudeau told reporters Monday at a Brampton YMCA child- care center.

“Different provinces have different priorities within, but families in Ontario can know that they’ve got the same quality of deal,” the prime minister said.

Ford hailed Trudeau for working “side by side, shoulder to shoulder, forget the political stripes,” and said the federal assurances were instrumental in winning his support.

“From day one, I said our government wouldn’t sign a deal that didn’t work for Ontario parents and I’m so proud of the work we’ve done with our federal partners to land an agreement that will lower costs for families across the province,” the premier said.

“Given how complex Ontario’s child-care system is, we wanted to get this right. Today, we’re delivering a deal that will keep money in the pockets of hard-working parents.”

Trudeau’s signature social program will mean that families with children ages five and under in licensed child care centers will see their fees reduced later this year by up to 25 per cent to a minimum of $12 per day.

In May, those parents will begin receiving rebate checks retroactive to this Friday.

The plan is that families will get another reduction in December, which should slash current fees in half by then.

There will be further fee cuts in September 2024 before a final decrease in September 2025, which will lower average child care costs to Trudeau’s promised $10 a day.

The historic agreement should help create 86,000 child-care spaces.

Ontario officials praised Ottawa for giving Canada’s most populous and diverse province “more flexibility” with an extended guarantee of funding.

“We would have been able to get to $17 a day (with the original offer) but we needed the extra year. Unlike every other province, Ontario has secured that funding,” a senior provincial official said, speaking confidentially in order to discuss internal deliberations.

Ottawa contended Ontario has merely agreed to a rejigged version of the initial accord because Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland had always promised “out-year” funding — if the provinces agree — after the arrangement expires.

“It’s a five-year agreement,” insisted Families and Children Minister Karina Gould’s office, noting Ottawa has given Ontario a commitment it would receive a minimum of $2.9 billion yearly after that “subject to a renewal by Ontario of the child-care agreement. ”

The “flexibility” Ontario gets is the ability to “carry forward” the $1 billion it gets in the first fiscal year, which ends this week, but has not yet been spent, Gould’s office maintained.

Ontario’s agreement stipulates a wage “floor” of $18 an hour for staff, and $20 an hour for supervisors, rates that would rise by $1 a year until 2025 up to $25.

However Kerry McCuaig, an expert in early childhood policy at the Atkinson Centre, University of Toronto, slammed the wage provisions in an interview with the Star, saying it is a pitifully low amount that will not bring more qualified workers into a sector that was hard hit during pandemic.

“I think people will be very upset,” McCuaig said.

Many trained Ontario child care workers now receive a $2 top up from the province to the $15 minimum wage, but at $17 an hour still make less than the median $20 an hour across Canada, she said. She added supervisors responsible for ensuring adequate care levels, staffing and running the business may make between $20 and $25 an hour but under this plan will see their wages “red-lined” at $25 an hour — an amount she said is completely inadequate.

“A wage floor has a way of becoming a wage ceiling,” said McCuaig.

She added the province is “cheaping out” on the creation of spaces, by claiming 86,000 new spaces would be created, when it was already spending $1 billion to create 30,000 new spaces.

The federal government says the measure of 86,000 new spaces would be retroactive to 2019. McCuaig suggests that means only 56,000 new spaces would actually be created.

Ford faces voters in a June 2 election. While he has been criticized by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca for dragging his heels on signing, he insisted Ontario received “a better deal” than other provinces.

Del Duca said the federal Liberals deserve the credit, not Ford.

“I am disappointed that Premier Ford, who, knowing how difficult a time young families are having making ends meet, knowing that federal child care money was on offer that could change their lives, deliberately chose to make them wait, and wait, and wait for help,” he said.

Ford countered that his negotiating guaranteed the additional year of funding, which is worth at least $2.9 billion.

As well, Ontario is receiving “enhanced protection against funding shortfalls through a mandated financial review process in year three — the first of its kind in any provincial child care deal.”

That is designed to “reconcile the actual costs of the new national child care plan with funding,” meaning Queen’s Park can hit up Ottawa for even more money if need be.

Ontario has also been guaranteed “protection of all for-profit and non-profit child care spaces, helping to support efficiently female entrepreneurs across the province who provide high-quality child care services.”

Another incentive, as first disclosed by the Star, was a planned new infrastructure fund expected in Freeland’s budget to create even more child care spaces.

The federal finance minister, who was instrumental in convincing Ford to sign on, said the “historic” accord would be good for families and for businesses.

“Labour force shortages are a choke point right now for our economy and affordable early learning and child care is going to be such an important part of Canada’s solution,” said Freeland.

The province’s existing child care tax credit program, which helps subsidize 300,000 families in licensed and unlicensed child-care centers for up to 75 per cent of their costs, will continue.

Queen’s Park will work with municipalities to enroll 5,000 licensed and in-home child care into the program by Sept. 1 to ensure parents can benefit from lower fees.

To illustrate the savings for parents, the government gave the example of a mother in York Region with two children in child care, who might pay $72 a day for her toddler and $31 daily for her five-year-old.

Those fees would drop by 25 per cent per year’s end to $54 and $23.25 per day, meaning refunds of $3,528 for her toddler’s fees and $1,519 for her elder child. That’s more than $5,000 in rebates this year alone.

Seven of the 10 most expensive places in Canada for child care are in Ontario.

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