LILLEY: Ford government may strike childcare deal with Trudeau but won’t adopt Quebec’s plan

Despite claims of universality, that is far from the case in Quebec

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Is Ontario about to get a $10-a-day childcare program like the one in Quebec?

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised that such programs will be expanded across the country – he’s promised it in election campaigns, and it was in his last budget.

Over the past few weeks, he’s also signed deals with provincial governments in British Columbia and Nova Scotia and he’s eager for more before heading to the polls — quite possibly this summer.

So, will there be a deal with the Ford government in Ontario and, if so, what will it look like?

The key word coming from the Ford government is flexibility.

While Ontario has never gone down the road of Quebec’s system, even under Liberal governments, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a structure in place. Past governments, like the current one, have sought flexibility so that parents and communities have options rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

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  1. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets people at Town Centre Park in Coquitlam, British Columbia July 8, 2021.

    LILLEY: Trudeau’s child-care promise won’t deliver the goods

  2. Children's backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018.

    OPINION: Costly government child care isn’t a winning solution

More than a decade ago, during a previous round of discussions, I recall covering then Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty telling reporters he didn’t want any system in Ontario that would stop parents from using “the lady down the street” for their childcare needs.

“We have a different system,” said one provincial official speaking on background earlier this week.

Ontario’s system includes a mix of licensed childcare centres, licensed care in homes, centres in schools, and unlicensed home-based care. Most of the facilities inside the provincial system are not-for-profit, but about 25% of the more than 5,000 licensed childcare settings are for profit.

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One big difference in Ontario is the province provides full-day kindergarten for both four- and five-year-old students — that’s not something every province does.

The Ford government is open to striking a deal with the Trudeau government on childcare as long as it recognizes the province’s existing system and the need for flexibility in program design.

“It won’t be the Quebec system,” said the official of what the system would look like if a deal was struck.

Quebec’s system started as a $5-a-day program back in the 1990s and now costs $10 a day. It is often held up as the model for other provinces to follow but mostly by activists who don’t look at its flaws.

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Despite claims of universality, that is far from the case. There were more than 50,000 children on a waiting list earlier this year, prompting Premier Francois Legault to promise to cut red tape to free up and create more spaces.

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The program has also disproportionately benefitted wealthy neighbourhoods over low-income ones that actually need the help.

It’s these issues that Ontario is looking to avoid as it continues discussions with the federal government on an Ontario-based program. The deals that Trudeau has signed with B.C. and Nova Scotia show that he’s open to flexibility and working towards different provincial priorities.

Ontario already has more than 462,000 licensed spaces and spends nearly $2 billion per year on childcare or tax credits for parents who need support. The province has pledged to build another 30,000 spaces and that process is underway.

“We’ll work with any level of government to make things more affordable for parents,” said another source, describing the Ford government’s approach to negotiating with the Trudeau Liberals.

The main objectives for the government are flexibility and fiscal sustainability, said the second source. Flexibility in how the system is run, sustainability in how it is funded.

They may not be on the same team politically, but the competing interests of Team Trudeau and Team Ford could align to help parents. Don’t be shocked if a deal appears in the next few weeks.

blilley@postmedia.com

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