Toronto stands to lose 6,000 daycare spots – Ontario/ – Toronto stands to lose 6,000 daycare spots
February 05, 2009.   Laurie Monsebraaten

Ontario child-care operators are fearing the worst.

With federal funding about to run out next year and no new commitments from Queen’s Park, as many as 22,000 child-care spaces could disappear – including up to 6,000 subsidized spots in Toronto.

There’s no crisis yet, municipalities say, but the lack of new money for child care in last week’s federal budget is making them nervous.

“We have a challenge in 2010,” said Toronto Councillor Janet Davis, chair of the city’s community development and recreation committee. “We are looking at all options to ensure we don’t lose any child-care service in the city.”

With 14,000 Toronto families waiting for subsidized child-care, the city can’t afford to lose a single spot, she added. Cuts, which city officials acknowledged could start as early as this fall, would be a last resort and occur through attrition.

All eyes are now on Premier Dalton McGuinty, who is preparing Ontarians for a budget deficit and severe belt-tightening as the economy worsens.

“The way I see it, we’ve got 14 months to convince them (the federal government) to change their mind,” McGuinty told reporters yesterday. “There’s a good economic argument for us to continue to support those … spaces.

“But most importantly, it’s in the interest of our children and their families,” McGuinty added.

The money in question is part of $252 million in child-care funds Ontario received from Ottawa in 2006 before Prime Minister Stephen Harper ripped up the previous Liberal government’s $5 billion national child-care plan.

Instead of spending all the money that year, Ontario spread it out over four years to support 22,000 new spaces. The last $63 million instalment runs out next March and child-care advocates want the province to pick up the cost.

Toronto child-care worker Julie Fitzgerald, 25, hopes Ontario and Ottawa work something out before her second child is born this June.

“I am really counting on a subsidy so I can return to work,” she said yesterday.

Without subsidies, child-care fees for Fitzgerald’s new baby and preschooler would be about $2,000 a month – a cost that would eat up all but $400 of her salary, she said.

“My only option would be to stay home and go on social assistance, which I really wouldn’t want to do,” said the single mom.

In Ottawa, opposition parties blamed the Conservatives for the uncertainty and called on the Prime Minister to act.

“I am hoping that he will rise in his place and respond now that 6,000 families at least are going to lose child care for their families and 1,000 child-care workers stand to be thrown out of work,” NDP Leader Jack Layton said in question period.

However, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley denied any cuts had been made and claimed the Conservatives were spending three times as much money on early learning and child care than the previous Liberal government.

She touted her government’s child-care benefit – a $100-a-month cheque mailed to the parents of young children – for giving Canadians more choice in child care.

With files from Bruce Campion-Smith

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