Ontario's 'fair share' of $10.2B child-care deal puts province at odds with feds

·4 min read
A child-care centre in Nova Scotia is pictured here.  have been ordered to cap their operations at 60 their typical capacity during the third wave of COVID-19. Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta have yet to sign child-care deals with the federal government. (CBC - image credit)
A child-care centre in Nova Scotia is pictured here. have been ordered to cap their operations at 60 their typical capacity during the third wave of COVID-19. Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta have yet to sign child-care deals with the federal government. (CBC - image credit)

Ontario has not given the federal government a proposal on paper for how it would spend the $10.2 billion on offer for its share of a national child-care program, says the federal minister leading the negotiations.

The governments of Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have yet to reach a deal on the Ontario portion of the Liberals' promised national child-care system, with spaces costing an average of $10 per day. Ottawa has struck accords with seven other provinces since the program was announced in this year's federal budget.

Money is of course the major sticking point. Interviews with the provincial and federal ministers responsible for the child care file show they have different definitions of what's fair for Ontario.

"Our offer for child care is based on the number of children aged zero to 12 in the province," said Karina Gould, the federal minister for Families, Children and Social Development. "It's the same that we have made to every province and territory across the country."

"We believe Ontario families deserve a larger investment from the federal government," said the province's Education Minister Stephen Lecce. "We want to make sure Ontario families are not shortchanged."

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The federal government provided Ontario with what's called a "term sheet" with details of its $10.2 billion offer seven months ago, said Gould.

She said the province has not responded with an "action plan" for implementing the program's goals, such as reducing fees in existing regulated child-care spaces by half within the next year, and bringing the average cost down to $10 per day within five years.

"We actually haven't received any numbers from the government of Ontario,' Gould said. "Every other province has managed to send us an action plan from which we've been able to have negotiations. But quite frankly, we're still waiting for Ontario."

A senior provincial official told CBC News the province sent a "detailed term sheet" to the federal government before the election. A senior federal official said Ontario has not submitted the documentation needed to begin substantive negotiations.

The federal budget allocates $27.2 billion over five years to the provinces and territories, starting in the current fiscal year. Ontario has 37.8 per cent of Canada's population of children up to age 12, making its share of the five-year package worth $10.28 billion.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Trudeau government says its funding will ultimately bring Ottawa to sharing child-care costs with the provinces 50-50.

Ontario's current annual budget for child care is $2.28 billion. That figure does not include the province's $3.6 billion in annual spending on full-day kindergarten for four and five year-olds, something that most other provinces do not provide.

Ontario's argument: by providing full-day kindergarten, the province is paying (through its education budget) for what would otherwise be daycare costs for the parents of four and five year olds, and Ottawa should factor that into its calculations.

"We're asking for a deal that reflects the unique investments Ontario makes," said Lecce in the interview with CBC News. "We happen to have a better investment, a better system of full-day kindergarten, a gold standard of early learning in the world, and so we don't want to be penalized."

Provincial officials say the proposed federal funding simply won't be enough to get the cost of child care in Ontario down to $10 a day.

Another sticking point for Lecce and Ontario is what happens after the five-year deal ends.

Mike Crawley/CBC
Mike Crawley/CBC

"It's within all of our interests to ensure this is an enduring, long-term, affordable program that stands the test of time," said Lecce. He said Ontario wants "a more long-term commitment where we avoid a sharp rise in fees at the end of this five-year agreement."

Some of the language in the federal budget on what happens after the five-year mark is vague. For example, it says future funding "would be determined based on an understanding of need and progress achieved as part of this initial plan." But some of it is specific, especially when it says "a minimum of $9.2 billion (nationwide) per year ongoing will be invested in child care" from 2025-26 onward.

Gould said the money earmarked in the budget shows the child-care program will be sustained beyond the five-year mark.

"Ontario is the only province that has raised this as an issue," she said. "It seems more like a stalling tactic as opposed to something that's going to inhibit us from from getting and reaching an agreement."

Alberta and New Brunswick are the two other provinces that haven't reached child-care agreements with the federal government, although Gould said Ottawa is "in really intense negotiations with Alberta right now."

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