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Daycare system near collapse, advocates say

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Monsebraaten, Laurie
Publication Date: 
22 Mar 2010

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The loss of $63.5 million in federal child care cash next month
and the fall launch of all-day kindergarten for 4- and 5-year olds is
creating the "perfect storm" in Ontario's child care system, advocates

If Queen's Park doesn't pick up the loss in Thursday's budget,
at least 7,600 child care subsidies will disappear, fees will rise and
parents may not be able to work, they say.

"We are facing a catastrophic collapse of the child care system
in this province," said Andrea Calver of the Ontario Coalition for
Better Child Care.

"With the loss of those subsidies, centres will have to lay off
staff, parent fees will have to rise and many programs will be forced
close," she said Monday.

Premier Dalton McGuinty blamed Ottawa as he faced a grilling on the issue in the Legislature Monday.

"Will he commit to keeping those child care spaces open or is he
telling mothers and fathers across the province to quit their jobs and
stay home with their kids?" asked NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"I call upon my colleague to join us in the efforts that we are
making to convince the federal government that they should restore that
funding on a permanent basis," McGuinty told the Legislature.

The federal money is part of $252 million in child-care funds
Ontario received from Ottawa in 2006 when the Harper government
cancelled a previous $5-billion national child care plan. Instead of
spending all the money that year, Ontario spread it over four years to
support about 7,600 new child-care subsidies. The last $63.5 million
installment runs out April 1.

Last summer, Queen's Park gave municipalities a one-time $18
million grant to keep the subsidies flowing until the end of the
current school year. But without new money, municipalities say they
will be forced to start cutting subsidies through attrition this summer.

Meanwhile, provincial officials say up to 48 per cent of child
care centres across Ontario will lose 4- and 5-year-olds when the first
phase of all-day kindergarten rolls out next fall.

Most of those centres have waiting lists for younger children
and could use the space to expand. But few parents can afford full fees
of $1,200 monthly or more. And without new subsidies, centres will be
forced to lay off staff or close, putting more spaces at risk.


In 1992, Ontario was above the national average when it came to
child care services, ranking 5th out of the 12 provinces and
territories in percentage of children under 6 served in child care
centres, according to the Child Care Resource and Research Unit, which
has been tracking child care in Canada for two decades.

By 2008, Ontario had dropped to 9th place, serving just under 20 per cent.

"Ontario was Canada's child care pioneer. But now we're really falling behind," said the Unit's Martha Friendly.

"If these cuts go through, we are looking at further
destabilization, loss of subsidies, spaces and centres that will put us
even further behind," she said.

Every other province in Canada has managed the loss of federal
child care funding without cutting services, noted researcher Kerry
McCuaig of Better Child Care Education. And many are also investing in
all-day kindergarten programs.

When the Liberals introduced all-day learning, they promised to
re-invest childcare funding for 4- and 5-year-olds back into the
system," she said.

If they don't, they will be using child care to pay for their early
learning plan," she said. "And that's not what they told people they
were going to do."

-Reprinted from the Toronto Star