TORONTO -- Ontario is looking at ways to make child care more affordable for families in the province, announcing a framework the minister in charge calls a step toward universal child care.
A new strategy aims to increase access to high-quality child care by funding new spaces, providing more funding for licensed home child care and offering more fee subsidies for families who need them.
"This framework sets us on a path towards a universally accessible child-care system for Ontario families, one where every Ontario family that needs licensed child care can access that care, where every family that needs affordable child care can access that care and one where every family that wants quality care can get that care," said Early Years and Child Care Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris.
She and Education Minister Mitzie Hunter discussed the framework Tuesday while announcing $1.6 billion in funding to build 45,000 new licensed spaces.
Those new child care spaces are part of a pledge of giving 100,000 more children aged four and under access to licensed child care over five years.
"We all know that child care and the right early years programs and supports play a crucial role in a child's healthy development and lifelong success," Hunter said. "In other words, laying a solid foundation in a child's earliest years dramatically increases their opportunities in life and a chance for a brighter future."
According to research from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, several Greater Toronto Area cities have the highest child-care fees in the country, with Toronto topping the list with a median fee of $1,649 a month for infants.
As part of the overall child care framework, Ontario will appoint experts to lead an affordability strategy and the province will study how it can better support early childhood educators and child care staff with compensation, hiring, retention and training.
The strategy also prioritizes the growth of non-profit child care and plans to develop a new approach for early years care for children with special needs.
The Progressive Conservatives said Tuesday that they supported the creation of more child care spaces but criticized the Liberals for not acting sooner to make daycare more affordable.
"Currently the licensed daycare sector provides spaces for little more than 20 per cent of children. The Wynne Liberals have no plan to pay for this promise, and they won't be accountable for it until years down the road," PC children and youth services critic Gila Martow said in a statement.
NDP early years and child care critic Catherine Fife called the government's announcement little more than a publicity stunt.
"The Wynne Liberals announced a plan to make a plan when it comes to child care and that's not good enough," she said. "Parents deserve action to make affordable, quality, licensed child care spaces available right away."