Ontario parents of children aged five and under will start getting rebates for licensed child-care fees in May and can expect to see costs cut in half by the end of the year now that the province has become the final signatory to a national program.
The rebates, retroactive to April 1, will represent reductions of up to 25 per cent, and are set to begin amid the spring provincial election campaign.
Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially announced the deal in Brampton, Ont., on Monday, to bring child-care fees down to an average of $10 a day by the end of 2026.
"I know Ontario parents have been wondering for a while when this was going to happen," Trudeau said. "Well, we worked hard to get this deal done because you deserve affordable child care like all Canadian parents."
Parents are set to see a further cost reduction in December, when fees will be reduced – on average – by 50 per cent, with further cuts slated for September 2024 to bring Ontario to an average of $10 a day by the following September.
The fee cuts would amount to an average savings per child of about $6,000 a year by the end of 2022.
Ford, who will begin a provincial election campaign in a few weeks, framed the deal as one of several ways his Progressive Conservative government is saving people money, referencing other measures such as rebates on licence plate renewal fees.
"It's a great deal for Ontario parents and the right deal for Ontarians," he said. "It’s a deal that provides flexibility in how we allocate federal funding, flexibility that is critical for making this deal work for Ontario."
The $10.2-billion, five-year child-care program was to include $1 billion for Ontario in year one, which is 2021-22. Since that fiscal year ends in four days, the federal government is allowing the province more flexibility to push most of that spending into future years.
The overall envelope is the same, Trudeau said.
"Ontario's allocation was $10.2 billion, as we calculated it almost a year ago," he said. "And that's exactly what this deal is."
Ontario had wanted more certainty beyond the life of the original five-year deal – the federal government's budget last year said funding for the program after the fifth year would be $9 billion annually – and got a commitment of $2.9 billion for year six, which officials describe as "out-year funding."
"We were happy to sign that because as you may remember, when we announced this child-care funding, it was permanent funding," Trudeau said.
"So all the other provinces also know they get funding on the sixth year, on the seventh year, on the 10th year, on the 20th year."
Ontario will now work to enrol 5,000 licensed child-care centres and licensed home daycares into the program. Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the operators have until September to apply, and parents will receive an "automatic benefit" and savings on their monthly fees.
Leslie Stobbart, a human resources manager and mother of two living in Ottawa, said the deal brings welcome financial relief as well as long-awaited recognition of the importance of child care.
With her youngest poised to enter junior kindergarten this fall, Stobbart said the deal will only help her directly for a few months, but even that represents a savings of roughly $250 a month, she said.
“That’s real money that’s not leaving your bank account every month,” she said.
At the same time, Stobbart said she was disappointed by the timing of the announcement – both because of its proximity to the election and because an earlier deal would have meant more support for parents.
“Even if it was four months ago, it would be $1,000 that I’m not paying. So every delay that has happened is actual money that I am paying,” she said.
Opposition leaders said the rebates should be retroactive to Jan. 1, as in some other provinces, in order to account for what they called a delay in Ontario signing the deal.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said it represents a "complete abandonment" of Ontario parents.
"This was a horribly missed opportunity by Doug Ford and the Ford Conservatives," he said. "It's deeply disappointing that people in Ontario had to wait to be last in line to get nothing really, for that kind of delay."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said parents would have more money in their pockets if a deal was reached sooner.
"While this is welcome news for parents who need relief from the sky-high cost of child care, by holding out for an extra nine months, Doug Ford didn’t get a better deal, he just robbed Ontario’s parents of nine months of lower prices," she said in a statement.
The deal also has Ontario creating 86,000 child-care spaces, though that number includes more than 15,000 spaces already created since 2019. The new spaces will be a mix of for-profit and not-for-profit, the government said.
As well, Ontario secured a review mechanism in year three that lets the province provide an updated costing model and ask for more money to account for any shortfalls.
Ford said the province would work on boosting wages for early childhood educators. The Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario has called for a $25 minimum wage for registered ECEs. Currently, the province gives a $2-an-hour wage enhancement for those making less than about $28 an hour.
"To be frank, they deserve more money. That's my opinion," Ford said.
"The job is very, very difficult. It's a job I wouldn't be able to do. You know, they they have a special skill set and they deserve to get paid appropriately and we'll work as quickly as possible and collaborate with stakeholders."
The deal sets new minimum-wage floors for child-care workers of $18 an hour for staff and $20 an hour for supervisors. Those wages will rise $1 an hour each year until the floor hits $25 an hour.
Advocates said Monday that those commitments were lacking.
“I've been hearing, honestly, a lot of disappointment,” said Rachel Vickerson, executive director of the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario.
Early childhood educators aren’t able to live on their current wages and are leaving the sector, she said.
Gordon Cleveland, a child-care policy expert and associate professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, said only getting to $25 an hour in seven years is "a joke."
Ontario's full-day kindergarten system has one teacher and one ECE in a classroom, where ECEs working in the school system get paid far more than their daycare counterparts, Cleveland said.
"We need to do the same kind of thing, but for childcare," he said. "We need to compete in a very tight labour market with a lot of other places that people could go, and so we're going to need to be paying $25 an hour to our child-care workers, but starting now."
Carolyn Ferns with the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care said it’s a “momentous occasion” to have all provinces signed on to a deal for affordable childcare, but said workers’ wages will need to be higher to expand the sector.
“If we want to build these spaces, if we want to expand child care, we're going to need more early childhood educators and we're going to need the ones that are in the system to stay,” she said. “That's not going to happen unless we really address compensation.”
Ontario is the last province or territory to join the national plan. Seven provinces and Yukon jumped on board in July and August, before the federal election was called. Alberta joined in November, New Brunswick and Northwest Territories in December, and Nunavut at the end of January.
- With files from Paola Loriggio
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2022.
Allison Jones and Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press