The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care (OCBCC) found that government cutbacks have put dozens of previously-approved child-care programs in the Greater Toronto Area, comprising thousands of spaces, on the chopping block.
The Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the City of Toronto itself will have to scramble to find millions after the province pulled back on child-care funding, the OCBCC found. In a presentation to media Thursday morning, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and OCBCC Public Policy Coordinator Carolyn Ferns broke down an analysis of 51 child-care programs in Toronto, including three in Premier Doug Ford's own riding comprising 255 spots, that could close.
"That's 3,000 children and families that won't get the affordable, high-quality, public, not-for-profit child-care that they need," Horwath said. “Quality child care is already priced out of reach for far too many families. We know that this has been a problem for many years.”
Ferns, who has a two-year-old son, said that when she was nearing the end of her pregnancy she was on 12 waitlists for a child-care spot, which she had been on since she was pregnant.
"The only reason that I got a child-care space was because a new infant room opened up in a school in my neighbourhood under the first phase of exactly this expansion plan," she said, adding that that infant room had a wait-list before it opened. "And I only managed to secure a spot because I told them that if anyone had to drop out for any reason, I would start the next day."
While her experience was hard, it must be even more difficult for parents of children with disabilities, or for new immigrants who need to navigate an unfamiliar system, Ferns said.
"For families in this city and across Ontario the stress of finding and affording a child-care space is incredibly high," she said. "Parents describe it as a scramble and a struggle and a maze, and that is exactly why these 3,000 child-care spaces here in Toronto, and others across the province are so desperately needed, and why it's shameful that the Ford government is creating this kind of chaos for Ontario families and our communities."
Horwath pointed out that Ontario is already the costliest province in Canada for child-care — especially in Toronto, where families pay a median cost of $1,685 a month, or $20,220 a year, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“Families deserve so much better than this," she said.
Horwath also noted that the province's child-care cuts will cost Sudbury $1.3 million, according to the city. "And communities all over our province are in the same boat," she said.
These 3,000-plus child-care spaces are separate from the more than 6,166 spots that the City of Toronto found were at risk due to provincial downloading, the NDP said. Those spaces had already been established, whereas today's announcement focused on spaces that have yet to be put into use — though time and money have already been committed to them, Ferns said.
Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson told QP Briefing that without provincial help, the city would have to make up about $35 million. He said the provincial deadline for the funding is set at August 30, and though the city has appealed for that date to be shifted to the end of October, they haven't heard back from the province, he said.
Thompson said he'd like for the province to sit down with the city and talk about a way forward that won't leave families short-changed, because he doesn't believe the city will be able to do this by itself.
“We’re challenged as it is in terms of maintaining the programs that we now have, but to start up 51 new projects on our own without the collaboration of the school boards and the province, I don’t see how it would be possible for us to expand the programs to such a level," he said.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce's office touted the province's CARE tax credit and blamed the previous government for child-care prices, claiming that funding for all previously approved child-care projects remain in place.
“Under the former Liberal government, childcare became the most expensive in the nation. That is why this government and premier is investing more in childcare than any government in our province’s history," he said. "Unlike the NDP and Liberals we do not believe in a one-size fits all approach to child care. We recognize the diversity of parental needs. That is why our plan provides choice and significant financial support for every child in the province of Ontario. We will not play politics when it comes to the children of Ontario — I encourage all parties to do the same.”
The TCDSB declined to comment as it is still looking into the full impact it could face, spokesperson Shazia Vlahos said.
The TDSB did not have anyone available to comment by press time.