Advocate wants gov't action on child care
TORONTO - The province is in danger of losing thousands of subsidized daycare spaces if the Liberal government doesn't act to fulfil its commitment to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on child care, an advocate said Wednesday.
Jenny Robinson, executive director of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, said given the current economic crisis, child care is more important than ever as parents go back to school or seek retraining to find work.
"Seventy per cent of moms with kids under the age of six have some kind of child care, so we really need it to operate our economy and to stimulate our community economy as well," Robinson said.
"On top of what's already happening with the economic crisis, this just adds to it."
Robinson said the Liberals need to fulfil the commitment they made during the 2003 election to spend $300 million on child care.
Her comments came the same day the head of Toronto's daycare service said the city is preparing to close up to 6,000 -- or one-quarter -- of all city-run subsidized spaces.
Closing those spaces could start as early as this fall unless there's a way to make up for a $63-million shortfall in federal funding, said Nancy Matthews, acting general manager of the city's children's services division.
Thanks to excellent record keeping, Toronto's daycare situation is often seen as a "litmus test" for the rest of Ontario, Robinson said.
"We suspect that it will be a problem across the province," she said.
"The system is incredibly underfunded, and as spaces or subsidies are put at risk, we'll start to see a disruption in service that will probably ripple out."
In 2005, the federal Liberal government and Ontario entered into a bilateral agreement for Ottawa to provide $1.8 billion in child-care funding over five years.
But when the Conservatives took power in Ottawa a year later, they terminated the funding and instead put in place their universal child-care benefit, which provides $100 per month for each child under the age of six.
Ontario received only the first instalment of the money -- about $270 million -- and decided to split up the money over four years.
The remainder of that money will run out in about 14 months, said Deb Matthews, Ontario's minister of children and youth services.
"We have made great progress since we've been elected, added 22,000 child-care spaces, subsidies for more families," Matthews said Wednesday.
"But we're asking the federal government to help sustain the progress that's been made."
Premier Dalton McGuinty said he's hopeful that Ottawa will reverse its decision to cancel the agreement.
"The way I see it, we've got 14 months to convince them to change their mind," he said.
"We've had some success as of late when it comes to dealing with the federal government, helping them to understand where our priorities lie."
When asked about the $300-million promise the Liberals made in 2003, Matthews avoided answering the question directly.
"Provincial funding for child care has increased by $300 million," she said. "Part of it is provincial money, part of it is federal."
In Matthews' own London riding, municipal officials are projecting a $4-million shortfall this year.
Rosita Johnson, the city's manager of children's services, said officials recently met with local members of the legislature to express their concerns over the "significant loss" of child care that will occur when the funding runs out.