Here is an exchange from the Ontario Legislature at Queen's Park from Thursday March 12, 2009. Andrea Horwath is the new leader of the NDP, she's asked many child care questions in her time at Queen's Park - we welcome this first question from her as the Party's new leader!
Ms. Andrea Horwath: To the acting Premier: Across our province, parents are struggling to find child care. Only 12% of Ontario families have access to licensed child care in this province. It's not a luxury; it's an economic imperative. It allows parents, especially mothers, to attend school, continue working or actively seek employment. Yet in London, Ottawa and Toronto, those three cities together, we have at least 23,000 eligible children on waiting lists. How can this government continue to let down so many children and parents?
Hon. George Smitherman: I think there is a necessity for agreement on how important child care is in the lives of families, most certainly. Our government has been very, very committed to the circumstances, especially for lower-income individuals and families with children. That's why the Ontario child benefit is featured so prominently in the work we've been doing to try to enhance the livelihoods of people.
I think it's important to note as well that that member is part of an organization, a party, that has a story where, in their legacy, they did cut child care subsidies. We have worked over the course of the last several years to open new spaces all across the province of Ontario, and with families under $20,000 or so eligible for a full child care subsidy.
I would look forward to continuing to work on this matter with the honourable member, but I remind her as well that our government's commitment around the Ontario child benefit stands as one very strong example of the dedication that we have to the lowest-income families in the province of Ontario.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Supplementary?
Ms. Andrea Horwath: The Deputy Premier should know very well that the Ontario child benefit is no replacement for real child care spaces in this province. The minister should take his response to Susanne, a mother from Toronto who is on 25 child care centre waiting lists. She's been waiting since 2007, when she was still only a couple of months pregnant. Now, with only a couple of months left in her maternity leave, she still does not have a child care space. She and her husband are being forced, the two of them, to each take time off work, something that is completely unaffordable to that family. What does this government say to Susanne and so many other working mothers and fathers who still can't access a program that is essential to our social and economic well-being?
Hon. George Smitherman: For the honourable member to say that income support for lowest-income families in Ontario is unimportant even in the context of providing for their needs around child care is, I think, challenging. I understand that there are circumstances where individuals are seeking these spaces, but for that member to raise a question about Toronto as an example, 4,276 additional spaces have been created through efforts that we have made in the province of Ontario, focused here in Toronto in particular. In the member's own community, Hamilton, and in Niagara the number was more than 2,000, evidence that there has been, alongside efforts like the Ontario child benefit, a strong desire to try to enhance the services that people need to be able to support their families.
I accept that there is room for more improvement here. I also acknowledge that there are some limitations on a resource which make balancing all of those things somewhat difficult, but we'll continue to charge ahead and do the best for working families.
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Final supplementary.
Ms. Andrea Horwath: Regardless of the numbers the Acting Premier is floating around, the reality is that only 12% of Ontario's children are in child care-12% in licensed, regulated child care in this province. It's a dismal failure.
A new report from the Ontario Association of Food Banks says that 500,000 more Ontarians will fall into poverty unless this government takes serious action in its upcoming budget. That includes investing at least $300 million in new child care money now. Two weeks from today, when it announces its budget, will the McGuinty government make this investment, and if not, tell those parents and tell those children why not?
Hon. George Smitherman: As one who has observed matters around child care for quite a long time, I was one of those who was disappointed that the New Democrats at the time, in the federal Parliament, took down a party that was implementing a national child care plan. This was a piece of progress that many had awaited for decades and decades, and instead they pulled the political trigger, all so that they could elect one or two additional members of the Legislature. I think it's also-
Mr. Paul Miller: History, history, history.
Hon. George Smitherman: Well, the member doesn't like history, and I'm not surprised that the member for Hamilton doesn't like the history of his party, where they killed a national child care program in pursuit of their own political objectives.
But I think it's very, very important to acknowledge as well that we are implementing full-day learning for four- and five-year-olds in the province of Ontario. This is about enhancing their capacity, of course, to learn and will also free up more child care spaces for younger children. It's disappointing that the leader of the third party, when she had the chance to vote in favour of full-day learning for four- and five-year-olds, voted against it.