More than one week after the provincial and federal budgets were tabled, key questions about child care funding remain unanswered. There are growing doubts that the federal and provincial funds will address the need for affordable high quality child care, or even to maintain the child care services currently available. The most significant question is whether federal funds announced for child care will be used to support the Ontario child care system, or instead be used for other programs.
“Communities across Ontario have inadequate child care funding today – with increasing parent fees, cuts to program funding, and uncertainty that existing spaces will remain viable for much longer,” commented Elizabeth Ablett, Executive Director of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care. “Federal and provincial dollars announced last week will not make a dent in these problems, let alone address the real need for affordable, high-quality child care.”
The Early Years Study 2, a report published earlier this week, confirms that Canada’s investment in the early years in a child’s life is the lowest among countries surveyed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The report also recommended re-instituting the funding earmarked for the federal-provincial early learning and child care agreements signed in 2005 as a first step in the development of a universal early learning and child care system.
This Saturday marks the end of funding under those now-cancelled agreements. Ontario, scheduled to receive $449 million in 2007/8 under those agreements, will instead have to rely on funds remaining from last year’s allocation – totalling $63.5 million – to prop up its Best Start plan. While the recent federal budget allocates $250 million for new child care spaces – approximately $97 million for Ontario – this is less than a quarter of the 2007/8 funding committed to the provinces under the 2005 child care agreements.
Ontario’s provincial budget, also tabled last week, made no mention of Ontario’s share of federal funds, an omission that has raised alarms amongst communities and advocates.
"The province’s reluctance to commit the federal funding for our child care system is unacceptable. ” said Shellie Bird, OCBCC President. "We have asked for a public statement that the $97 million will be spent on child care, in addition to the new provincial funding. This government should expect to hear from parents and the child care community into the fall election.”
The Ontario budget also included provincial child care funding of $25 million this year and $50 million next year - the first provincial support for child care since the Harris government cuts – but this falls $275 million short of the funding promised by Dalton McGuinty in 2003. While new provincial and federal dollars are welcomed, they do very little to rebuild the damage of the past 12 years – including the $152 million dollars cut during the Harris / Eves years.
Currently less than 11% of children under 12 in Ontario have access to high quality, regulated early learning and child care.