Ontario’s plan for ‘universal’ and ‘affordable’ day care won’t be universal and it sure isn’t affordable

Posted on June 9, 2017 in Child & Family Policy Context

NationalPost.com – FP Comment
June 8, 2017.   Christine Van Geyn

What could Kathleen Wynne possibly have left in her progressive bag of tricks? There’s an election one year away, and the premier has already offered universal pharmacarefor kids, rent control and a $15 dollar minimum wage. What costly razzle-dazzle does the premier have left to wow voters?

Behold Wynne’s June 6th proposal of “universally affordable” child care — which is neither universal nor affordable. With this idea the premier is following in the footsteps of the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair, the NDP’s Rachel Notley, and of course the separatist former Quebec premier Pauline Marois.

However, Ontario’s Liberals are not proposing universal daycare along the lines of the original Quebec policy or Alberta pilot project.

Subsidies will only be available to low- and middle-income families, and this is a good thing. The universality of Quebec’s day-care program caused significant problems: the new subsidized spots had long wait lists even as those scarce spots were scooped up by affluent families. Maclean’s magazine noted that families in the top 25 per cent of income earners were twice as likely to grab a day-care spot as those in the bottom 25 per cent. Quebec eventually abandoned this model, and has now moved to a sliding scale where higher-income families pay more.

At a taxpayer cost of about $35,000 per space, the government could hire every child an in-home nanny.

Although Indira Harris-Naidoo, Ontario’s associate minister for early years and child care, stated that the government is on a “path” to universality, the current proposal is not universal. While Harris-Naidoo would not clarify during her press conference what the income thresholds were to be, or what “affordable” actually means, it’s a good thing that the province isn’t following the failed Quebec model. Hopefully, this doesn’t change.

But what the policy does have in common with the Quebec and Alberta models is that it’s unaffordable.

Ontario has run nine consecutive deficits, and is currently adding $9 billion in debt this year. The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario predicts that the government will add $76 billion in debt over the next five years.

Yet, somehow the premier is intent on giving the impression that the treasury is flush with cash with plans to spend $1.6 billion to create 45,000 new day care spots over five years. At about $35,000 per space, the government could hire an in-home nanny for every child for at least a year (but then, that would be considered one of those nasty unlicensed care providers, like neighbours and grandparents, which the government must protect us from).

Government-run day care is simply uneconomical. And Ontario is likely to see some of the same cost drivers that occurred in Quebec. Part of that province’s cost increase was driven by increased levels of unionization among child-care workers — both those at public centres and those offering home-based day care. With Ontario’s new labour-law proposals, which would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and allow for easier private sector unionization, the cost increases could be even more dramatic. About 24 per cent of current workers at registered day-care centres are paid less than $15 per hour. Bumping them up, and then bumping up their peers with more seniority, will only add to the costs of an already expensive system.

The Ontario government has already made the cost of virtually everything much more expensive, from real estate to electricity. That includes the cost of being a parent. The solution isn’t for the government to hand out goodies aimed at winning over target voters in the lead up to an election. The solution is to make life more affordable for everyone.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the approach the government is following. The more the premier has in her bag of tricks, the less money we have in our wallets.

Christine Van Geyn is Ontario Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation


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