LILLEY: Trudeau’s child-care offer leaves Ontario short big bucks

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The offer on the table from the Trudeau government for child care in Ontario could see the province shortchanged billions over the course of the deal. Not only does the offer not properly represent Ontario’s population, but Ford government officials also say it doesn’t take into account the existing system including full-day kindergarten for four-year-olds.

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Of the $29.8 billion over five years that the feds have set aside for their $10-a day-child care plan, Ontario is being offered $10.2 billion. While that sounds like a substantial sum, it only works out to 34.2% of the national funding when Ontario actually has 37.8% of the country’s population under the age of five.

Were the province given a straight-up, per-capita cut of the funding based on the number of children in that age group, the amount on offer would shoot up to $11.2 billion per year.

That also would not help Ontario get to the goal set out by the federal government of an average payment by parents of $10 per day because Ontario has some of the most expensive care in the country.

According to the federal government’s own budget document, the average monthly child care cost in Toronto is $1,578. Across Toronto’s suburbs those costs range from average monthly fees of $1,250 in Vaughan to $1,327 in Richmond Hill. Smaller centres such as Hamilton see average monthly costs of $1,027 while London sees an average of $1,191

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Compare that to average costs of $451 in Winnipeg, $675 in Regina and $853 in Halifax.

Provincial governments in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have all signed onto the federal plan and are receiving funding based on a per child model. While federal officials say that their funding model does take into account higher costs for Ontario, the Ontario government begs to differ.

In the 2021 budget, the Liberals promised a 50% reduction in the fees parents pay by the end of 2022 and an average rate of $10 a day within five years. Given the costs in Ontario and the complexity of the system, officials in the Ford government say it currently isn’t possible.

Several officials, speaking on background, all said that the province wants a deal and negotiations continue but money is the sticking point.

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One official said it doesn’t appear that the federal government understood the depth and complexity of Ontario’s system when they first made their offer. In addition to both public and private delivery in Ontario there is the vast size of the province, the urban/suburban and rural differences and the use of the school system.

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Unlike most provinces, Ontario offers full-day kindergarten from age four and child care in many communities is integrated into the school system. This is something the province would like the feds to recognize in their discussions but so far have not found a willing partner.

The province already spends more than $2 billion annually on child care, most of that in subsidies for low-income families — the lowest-income parents don’t pay for child care — while other parents receive tax rebates to help defray the cost.

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One word that comes up again and again in conversation with Ford government representatives is sustainability. The province is wary of entering into another expensive agreement with the federal government where they come in with a splash but then back away from funding — like with health care.

Given the wording on the long-term plan for child care promise, that’s understandable.

“Future objectives and distribution of funding, starting in year six, would be determined based on an understanding of need and progress achieved as part of this initial plan,” the federal budget states.

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That means, after year six, when the program is up and running, funding is up for renegotiation. The last thing the province wants is to be left holding the bag while the feds take their money and move on to the next shiny election promise.

In a deal this big and this complex, it shouldn’t be a shocker that it comes down to money. That’s what this is all about for parents as well.

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