Families Cut From $10-a-Day Child-Care Program Unlikely to Get Answers

Families Cut From $10-a-Day Child-Care Program Unlikely to Get Answers
A child plays on a play structure as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to parents at the YMWCA daycare in Winnipeg about the federal $10-a-day child care plan for Manitoba, on March 3, 2023. (The Canadian Press/John Woods)

In Lanark County, Ontario, a rural community just outside Ottawa, some 300 families were recently cut from the federal government’s $10-a-day child-care program. Their only offence was choosing a licensed home child-care agency run as a small business.

Just two weeks before the start of the school year, Lanark County terminated its contract with the Natural Connections home child-care agency in favour of its primary competitor, a non-profit with close ties to the public sector. When parents tried to speak with the public officials involved, they hit a brick wall. “The lack of transparency and accountability here is shocking,” said one working mom, who asked that her name not be published due to fear of reprisal for speaking out.

Indeed. It’s hard to get answers when three taxpayer-funded bureaucracies—federal, provincial, and municipal—are involved. Turning to the elected governments that are supposed to be directing these bureaucracies has also proven ineffective. Child care is a difficult file for most politicians to master, and to be fair, it is very complicated.

It has become even more so since the federal government launched the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care program (CWELCC), ostensibly to get more women into the paid labour force after COVID.

The CWELCC isn’t like the transfer payments used in most other policy areas. The strings attached give the federal government more direct influence over the specifics of service delivery. With the exception of those in Quebec, few provincial politicians questioned this approach before they took the money. Most seem to have assumed that more taxpayer money would automatically solve their province’s child care challenges, even it meant substituting the federal government’s plan for their own.

For child-care centres in Ontario, there is now less flexibility to operate with a mix of subsidized and non-subsidized families. A centre has to either be all-in for the $10-a-day program and abide by its onerous terms and conditions, or opt out entirely. This all-or-nothing approach leaves child-care programs at risk of sudden closure based on the whims of the municipal bureaucracies the province has put in charge of administering the federal funds. This means families can be left scrambling for the “convenience” of the municipality, the reason Lanark County cited for ending its contract with Natural Connections.

For child-care staff in Ontario, wages are virtually stagnant. Centres that have opted into the CWELCC say their finances are so tightly controlled by municipal bureaucrats, they can’t pay staff more and still keep their doors open. Staff are leaving the sector in droves. Most of Ontario’s licensed home child-care agencies are also struggling to find and keep home-based providers.

The unique business model used by Natural Connections meant that there was a waiting list of providers eager to work with the agency. Since the county’s decision to defund Natural Connections, several providers affiliated with it have left the licensed sector entirely.

For families in Ontario, there is less equity. If a licensed child-care centre opts into the CWELCC program, all of the families who rely on that centre automatically receive a fee subsidy at taxpayers’ expense—whether or not they actually need or want it. Some families say they were further ahead paying their previous child-care fees and taking the associated deductions when they filed their taxes.

Meanwhile, families who desperately need a fee subsidy will likely see their children age out of the system before they actually get one, because the CWELCC’s “directed growth” approach relies so heavily on taxpayer funding to create new licensed facilities.

For Ontario’s Ministry of Education, there are also new constraints. The CWELCC agreement Ontario signed in March of last year required that it limit the expansion of licensed child-care programs run as businesses. By November, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office was reporting that the province is likely to be short over a quarter of a million licensed spaces by 2026.

Recent events in Lanark have so far resulted in both the loss of spaces and parental choice. Lanark parents who need subsidized home child care now have only one local option—the agency with the closest ties to the public sector.

Some say that was the point of the $10-a-day child care program all along. Create the conditions for government bureaucrats to put the squeeze on the child-care services with the least ability to push back—those run as small businesses—so that child-care services with closer ties to the public sector can be the beneficiaries.

It won’t take long for the public sector to inherit the customers and staff of the thousands of small businesses that are forced to close. Parents who object will either be afraid to speak out or will run into the impenetrable brick walls of three unaccountable, taxpayer-funded bureaucracies.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Andrea Hannen is the executive director of the Association of Day Care Operators of Ontario, which represents independent licensed child care programs, both commercial and not-for-profit.
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