Opinion: The case for Canada’s first child care system

Children in Quebec are able to enter the workforce sooner than those in other provinces.

Children in Quebec are able to enter the workforce sooner than those in other provinces.

Pledging to find a permanent solution to child care shortages, Liberal Ontario Premier Doug Ford outlined ambitious pre-election childcare plans this week, including building up to 12,000 more child care spaces.

Among other things, he also promised to lower the age of qualifying for free or subsidized child care from four to three years of age – and replace Ontario’s current program, which partially subsidizes child care but is typically delivered through a community centres -with a publicly financed, universal daycare program that would operate with new daycare spaces being created through private partnerships.

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Read more: The feds agree to help Ontario with child care, but how?

Welcome to the brave new world of universal child care Ontario has launched. The goal is to establish 24,000 spaces by December of 2019, and bring in 100,000 by Dec. 31, 2023.

But while well intentioned, the plan is a disappointment to parents and a fatal blow to the capacity of community daycares. Mr. Ford is skating on very thin ice.

If he actually wanted to make a significant dent in child care, we think he would do well to think about the issue differently.

For one thing, as anyone who has received government support in accessing child care will attest, it is not easy and it only works in small, non-profit community centres. Of course, Ontario has allocated $246-million in funding for new or expanded daycare spaces. But even that amount of funding isn’t nearly enough to keep up with demand.

We think Mr. Ford should consider using some of the revenue from the Uber and Lyft licence taxes that both Ottawa and Ontario collect to establish a well-organized network of family daycares all across Ontario. Instead of creating a new network of private-sector child care providers, we think Ottawa and Queen’s Park should seek an established operator of the existing family daycare networks across the province to provide access to care to parents and youth between the ages of three and six – all at a cost of less than half a cent per day on each Ontario resident’s household income.

An operator with all of the revenues of a child care system as large as that established by the City of Toronto would be able to sign 50-year private sector contracts with the government. They would receive tax breaks by lowering their bottom line, but not enough to pay all the salaries of their hard-working staff, including staff that do public health inspections, child behaviour tests and provide childcare.

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For additional revenue, we believe a government could charge a modest charge of say, one dollar per day, which would be tacked onto the cost of daycare. That fee, however, should be paid from a special account set up by the government for the sole purpose of making funding available for child care, similar to the way we pay for bridge tolls or vehicle registration. The revenue would likely go to maintenance and improvement of the existing child care network, as well as support programming.

We also believe that the type of child care would have to be developed at a community-based level to be effective and actually meet the needs of children. Yes, a teacher would need to be recruited and trained, and yes, some families would need to have child care facilities in their own communities.

What we are suggesting would not be free for families. But it would provide an affordable (but not free) service of up to $15,000 per child per year. That would allow parents to drop their kids off and pick them up without worrying about finding a place.

This type of plan would allow the government to rapidly create and operate a network of family daycares all across the province, meaning that affordable child care is available to all. And if we want to ensure that young people have access to high-quality child care for their children, this type of plan would be the way to do it.

But it will require meaningful conversation with the private sector and with the cities themselves – the major financial power centres that have created and operate the Ontario’s 24,000 daycare centres.

The 2017 election in Ontario was fought around a family daycare system that was accessible and affordable to all, not one that was resourceful and run by some mysterious government entity.

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We can do better.

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