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Ontario parents can't wait to snack on free daycare. [Photo © Bronwyn Beairsto]

Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne has proposed free licensed daycare for the Liberals spring re-election platform, which would begin in 2020. The program would come at a cost of $930 million to the province, and is the center-piece of a $2.2-billion investment to expand access to licensed daycare.

The Liberal’s plan explained

The plan would cover children from the age of two and a half to when they enter kindergarten, meaning it would not cover the costs of infants or toddlers. Based on a 2013 national survey by the Canadian Labour Congress, the average full-time monthly fees in Ontario were $1,152 for infants, $925 for toddlers, and $835 for preschoolers. Under the Liberal plan, the average Ontario family with one preschooler would save about $17,000, according to Wynne. Families in Toronto would save even more, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, as child-care fees in the city are among the highest in Canada.

Wynne says this plan is based on a higher demand for daycare services and will be an effective measure to shrink the gender wage gap. “If we don’t do something to give more women the choice to return to work after having kids on their own terms, then we will never achieve gender equality,” Wynne said during her announcement March 27. The Liberals have also committed $162.5 million over three years to decrease child-care fees, boost access to licensed care and reduce wait list times for parents applying for fee subsidies.

Daycare workers at Overbrook Child Care Centre provide children with a range of entertaining activities. [Photo © Bronwyn Beairsto]

What the studies say

Ontario is not the first province to consider implementing a free or lower-cost daycare system. Since 1997, Quebec has offered government-subsidized daycare for children aged four and under, with a fixed cost of between $7.75 to $21.95 per day. A 2008 study from the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research found showed that maternal labour force participation rose in Quebec after the introduction of daycare system, rising from 74 percent for women aged 25 to 54, to 87 percent in 20 years.

However, the same study found that children were worse off in a number of “behavioral and health dimensions, ranging from aggression to motor-social skills to illness.” The study also found that children enrolled in Quebec’s universal child-care program are more likely to commit crimes, have worse health outcomes and lower levels of life satisfaction later in life than children in other provinces.

On Jan. 11, 2018, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant announced plans to provide free daycare for families with an annual income of under $37,500.

Kim Hiscott is the Executive Director at Andrew Fleck Children’s Services, which is one of the oldest child-care and family support organizations in Ontario. Hiscott says her organization is excited about the announcement, as they have been consistently advocating for lower costs for families in order to make childcare more accessible. “As a not-for-profit program, we have always been working really hard to ensure affordability for families, while appropriately compensating educators,” Hiscott said.

Mothers voice their concerns

Cathleen Antoine, mother of two children aged four and eight, says she does not agree with Wynne’s daycare plan, citing issues with the costs of such a program. “First, we have to pay for it, and now we will have to pay for it again through taxes. So we will have to pay for it twice, which isn’t fair,” she said. “Where is this money going to come from? Increased taxes? Cuts to school budgets, which are already suffering?”

Antoine is also concerned Wynne’s daycare plan will cause many daycares in Ontario to go out of business. “This is not fair to the people who have worked really hard to develop a great business that is working for many families, and it could lower the amount of choice people have.”

Dione Robinson-Adra says she agrees with the plan, “in principle, because it is very expensive in Ontario for daycare.” The mother of three says she is also concerned about the free daycare program adding to Ontario’s deficit, “but with that being said, maybe women who decided they couldn’t go back to work because their daycare costs were so high will be back in the workforce, contributing towards tax dollars. Maybe that could partially pay for the costs of rolling the program out,” Robinson-Adra said.

The implementation of this daycare program is hardly guaranteed. In the short term, the Liberals would have to win the June 7 election. According to CBC’s Poll Tracker, the Progressive Conservatives are currently polling at 42 percent, while the Liberals sit at just 27 percent popularity. But as Hiscott claims, the implementation of a free daycare program in Ontario would be, “historic not only in North America, but in the world.”

Daycare worker Benoit Gautier supervises preschool age children at Overbrook Child Care Centre. [Photo © Bronwyn Beairsto]

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