Education minister says Ontario negotiating for more child-care money, flexibility, sustainability

TORONTO – The money currently on offer for Ontario in the federal government’s child-care plan would see families paying much more than $10 a day, the province’s education minister said Monday.

Stephen Lecce faced questions about why Ontario has not been able to reach a deal with Ottawa, when eight provinces and one territory have already signed on, including an agreement with Alberta announced Monday.

“Currently, the program they’re offering Ontario, we believe shortchanges families,” Lecce said. “What we’re asking the feds to do is to look at the numbers.”

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Karina Gould, the federal minister of families, children and social development, said Ontario has still not submitted a detailed action plan on how it would spend federal funds after Ottawa sent a term sheet to all provinces and territories seven months ago, outlining its objectives on fee reductions, space creation and workforce development.

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Lecce said he sent Gould a letter Friday with Ontario’s “core priorities,” and will be sending updated modelling to back up the province’s contention that a current proposal would shortchange the province.

The $10.2 billion on the table, based on Ontario’s population, also does not take into account the $3.6 billion a year the province spends on full-day kindergarten for four- and five-year-old children, Lecce said.

“We think we can still land a deal, but we need there to be more investment from the feds to recognize the unique, sophisticated, mature child-care system that we have proudly in this province,” he said.

The federal Liberal government’s $30-billion, five-year child care plan promises to cut fees to an average of $10 per day across the country and cut them in half by next year.

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Speaking in Alberta on Monday after announcing the deal with that province, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said affordable child care is universally understood as necessary for families and for economic growth, pointing to the fact that he and Premier Jason Kenney were able to reach a deal, despite major disagreements on many other issues.

“It can be done,” Trudeau said. “The federal government is there with the money and the framework to do it and we’re very hopeful that Ontario will do it.”

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Lecce said a good deal for Ontario is on the horizon, but he wants one that is flexible and sustainable, including a mechanism by which an agreement could be extended beyond five years.

“If we don’t get to $10 at any point, if we don’t get recognized for the $3.6-billion investment we make annually, and we don’t have a way to ensure it is an enduring program in a sustainable program, then I feel like, you know, we’re setting ourselves up for short-term success and long-term failure,” Lecce said.

Gould noted that the federal government has committed another $9 billion “on an ongoing basis” and will ensure in legislation that the program continues beyond five years.

READ MORE: Ontario municipalities consider direct talks with Ottawa on cheaper child care

Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath suggested that Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is trying to get the federal government to pay for full-day kindergarten, an expense borne by the province for about a decade, just to free up some cash.

“I don’t understand why (Premier) Doug Ford wants to go backwards and use this money that’s supposed to be for child care, to help their education bottom line,” she said.

“We should be able to layer on the child-care program, the $10 day child care program that the federal government’s offering, on top of all-day-learning or full-day kindergarten.”

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Ontario Liberal House Leader John Fraser also said the government is trying to “backfill their budget” on full-day kindergarten.

“I think it’s very frustrating for parents that the government hasn’t been able to make a deal on this,” he said.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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