Feds blame Ontario as some daycare centres pull out of national child care program

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with kids at the Stationview YMCA Childcare Centre in St. Thomas, Ont., Monday, May 13, 2024. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with kids at the Stationview YMCA Childcare Centre in St. Thomas, Ont., Monday, May 13, 2024. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press - image credit)

Families Minister Jenna Sudds said Monday some Ontario daycare centres have pulled out of the federal government's national early learning and child care program because the province hasn't stepped up with enough cash.

Asked about some daycares either rejecting or bailing out of the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) program, Sudds said it's a "consequence, unfortunately, of a delay with respect to the province of Ontario coming forward with a sustainable and long-term funding formula for providers."

Sudds said the province is "responsible for fostering those relationships" so that providers have the money they need to "confidently continue to provide high-quality services."

Sudds made the comments at a stop in St. Thomas, Ont., where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $200 million in funding to create more child care spaces in a province where they're in short supply.

WATCH | Federal minister blames Ontario after some daycares pull out of national child care program

Toronto's Ola Daycare pulled out of the program earlier this year, citing costs that were above what the federal and provincial governments were offering in funding.

The result was an immediate doubling of fees paid by parents to about $1,400 a month.

Ola's monthly debt is growing "by a significant amount" and it had to pull out of the $10-a-day program and increase rates to match inflation or risk shutting down, the operator wrote in an email to parents obtained by the Canadian Press.

Tami Zuckerman, the operator of The Little Campus, a child-care centre in Toronto's west end, told The Trillium in March that she opted out of the program because staying in it would have bankrupted her.

"This is not about a money grab — it's more about surviving and making sure that I offer the same quality of care," she said.

WATCH: Ottawa falling short of $10-per-day child care for all families

While there are reports of some centres distancing themselves from Ottawa's program — which is designed to cut child-minding fees in half before getting to $10 a day eventually — Sudds said most daycares are on board with the program.

"The reality on the ground is almost 100 per cent of providers have been and are part" of the program, Sudds said when asked by reporters about some daycare centres rejecting the Liberal government's program.

But she said it is a "worry" when some providers pull out of the program or skip joining it entirely.

Asked about Sudds's comment, a spokesperson for Stephen Lecce, Ontario's education minister, pointed to remarks he made in the question period in April.

"We delivered a plan in partnership with all levels of government that has reduced fees by 50 per cent, saving $6 to $10,000 per child," Lecce said at the time, while also criticizing the previous provincial Liberal government for fee increases on its watch.

"We are standing up for parents and ensuring all families benefit from affordability in this province," Lecce said.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland's 2021 budget included a $30-billion, five-year commitment to implementing a national child care program, something the Liberal Party has promised for decades.

Every province and territory has signed on to the deal. In exchange for the money, the provinces have to implement the federal government's lower fee schedule and also increase wages for child-care workers.

But some daycare centres maintain Ontario is setting reimbursement rates at an artificially low level that has not been adjusted to account for recent cost increases.

Operators have said the combination of a cap on fees parents pay and insufficient government rebates has some daycare centres teetering on the edge of insolvency — or threatening to leave Ottawa's child care program behind.

An official in Lecce's office, speaking on background to CBC News, said a new funding formula for child care operators is "coming imminently."

"We're doing things to stabilize the sector but we're asking Ottawa to step up" with more money, the official said.

"We're doing our part. They need to step up. This is their program."

The official said Ottawa has only committed funds for childcare spaces through 2026 — and more money is needed now to ensure the program's long-term viability.

The federal Conservatives have been critical of the federal government's handling of the new child care program — but the party's leader, Pierre Poilievre, has never been clear about what he would do with the initiative if elected.

A spokesperson for Poilievre did not answer Monday when asked if the party would scrap the child care program. "Justin Trudeau is only good at staging photo ops," said the spokesperson in a media statement. "All he ever delivers is chaos, delays and punishing costs to struggling families."

Trudeau pounced on Poilievre's evasiveness, saying a vote for the Conservatives is a vote to kill a program that has lowered costs for Canadian families.

While the cost of child care has gone down for many parents — rates have been cut in half in Ontario and elsewhere — finding a spot has also been a major challenge, data suggests.

Poilievre's spokesperson pointed to recent Statistics Canada data that shows families are reporting it's more difficult to find a child care spot now than it was five years ago.

StatsCan data also shows nearly half of all infants under age one are one a wait list — up from 38 per cent in 2022.

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada
Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

Poilievre's spokesperson also pointed to a study from University of British Columbia.

Researchers there set out to interview low-income families who have been able to access the child care program.

"Our initial study intended to only interview low-income women who were single moms accessing those $10-per-day spots," Dr. Lea Caragata, director of the school of social work at UBC and co-author of the study, told CTV Vancouver.

"After six months of intensive recruitment, we could only find 13 across the province."

Sudds said Monday the program has been a success, with tens of thousands of parents saving thousands of dollars every year on child care.

"We know here in Ontario there's 300,000 children already benefiting from our high-quality and affordable spaces. But we need more. The work continues," she said. "We expect the province will engage with providers."