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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.