A group of parents are pushing strollers and towing toddlers to Queen's Park to protest provincial government plans to end subsidies to child-care centres across the province.
Andrea Calver, of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, said dozens of children and their parents delivered giant beach balls to Premier Dalton McGuinty, their way of telling him that "the ball is in his court" when it comes to child care.
"If there isn't $63.5 million in next week's budget, we will see a catastrophic collapse of child care," she told reporters Friday. "We'll see vacant spaces, higher fees and the closure of some centres. That is the end result of a lack of funding in next week's budget."
The parents planned the rally to bolster their demands that the provincial Liberals maintain child-care funding in the coming budget, set for March 25.
In 2006, the McGuinty government took a one-time federal payment for child care and spread it over four years with $63.5 million in funding going to child-care services.
That money runs out this year and without it, the protesters say that Ontario's entire child-care system could collapse.
Calver says municipalities count on grants from the province to administer child-care services.
If the province does not replace that $63.5 million in this year's provincial budget, towns and cities will have no option but to make dramatic cuts to child care services.
The coalition says thousands of low- and middle-income families will lose child care and may have to leave their jobs or postpone going back to school because of that.
Toronto alone has an estimated 16,000 children on its waiting for subsidized child care, the coalition says. Despite the demand, city officials have said they will be forced to cut 5000 child care subsidies – 20% of all Toronto's child-care subsidies.
The situation is similar in other Ontario regions, the coalition says.
Some child-care centres say they have a long wait list of families that need support, but many of the spaces are vacant because of the subsidy freeze.
A funding shortfall could also affect the province's previously announced plan to introduce full-day kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds this September.
Calver says one report indicates that the loss would increase demand for welfare and eliminate thousands of jobs.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss
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