Daycare gets budget bailout

TheStar.com -parentcentral.ca/Education/Child Care
March 24, 2010.   Robert Benzie, QUEEN’S PARK BUREAU CHIEF

Premier Dalton McGuinty is riding to the rescue of 7,600 subsidized child-care spaces with an infusion of $63.5 million in the upcoming budget, the Star has learned.

Sources said despite a record $24.7 billion deficit, McGuinty does not want to abandon what had been a joint federal-provincial program that was effectively scrapped by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“What I can say is that we’ve struggled with this,” the premier told reporters Tuesday at Queen’s Park.

“On the one hand, you’ve got these kids who are in quality daycare spaces and we are very reluctant to evict those kids from those spaces and create challenges not only for them but for their families and their parents,” McGuinty said.

“On the other hand, every time the federal government steps up to the plate and says, `We’ve got funding now for a program,’ and then withdraws from that. … people look to us to fill in that space at a time when we’re struggling to meet our own commitments.

“So it’s not an easy challenge for us to overcome and we’ll speak to it in the budget.”

Insiders say Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will use Thursday’s budget to announce the Liberals will replace the federal funding that runs out on April 1.

“This is very much a core value to us,” an official said, noting the government will also start the phase-in of all-day kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds this September and does not want to undermine that initiative by curbing daycare funding.

In 2006, former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin’s administration gave the province $252 million as part of a new $5 billion national child-care plan, but Harper’s Conservatives cancelled the program and replaced it with monthly $100 cheques for parents.

Ontario spread its $252 million funding over four years, allowing it to create 7,600 subsidized spaces at a cost of $63.5 million annually.

But that federal money runs out at the end of the fiscal year. This has created a dilemma for Queen’s Park that goes well beyond child care.

Federal money for time-limited programs ranging from economy-boosting infrastructure improvements to a $39 million plan to vaccinate girls for human papilloma virus (HPV) is also starting to run out.

Sources say McGuinty is worried about the future of such joint federal-provincial initiatives if Ottawa opts out of continued funding.

While declining to discuss specifics, Duncan conceded there is trouble on the horizon.

“Close to $1 billion in time-limited federal funding is expiring in a whole range of areas – skills training, housing, public transit,” he said.

In Ottawa, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said he would like Ontario to follow his lead and focus on a reasonable timetable for deficit reduction.

“I would hope that the provinces would have a look at what we have done federally and look at their deficit situations and demonstrate plans to move over time to balanced budgets and I think that’s what the expectation is among the Canadian people,” said Flaherty, who has repeatedly spurned Ontario’s demand for child-care funding.

The Star reported on March 17 that the province expects to be awash in red ink until 2017-18.

NDP MPP Rosario Marchese (Trinity-Spadina), who has fought for Queen’s Park to retain child-care funding, said it would have been “ironic and quite sad” if new all-day kindergarten ended up hurting care for younger kids.

“When you pull out the 4- and 5-year-olds from child-care providers, you remove an important source of revenue. It’s the revenue that subsidizes care for infants and younger children,” said Marchese.

“Without it, (child-care centres) will be crippled and many will not survive, and those that do will have to increase fees,” he said.

With files from Richard J. Brennan

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