Canadian newspapers Wednesday reported that Ottawa and Ontario are finalizing a deal on the funding of daycare services for about 1.3 million kids. A mediator was asked to be appointed by both governments so that an agreement can be signed by the end of June.
The big questions are what will be included and if the two government could force a deal after a few days of talks. The first question is what the federal and provincial governments might be prepared to sign off on.
Ottawa was planning to spend $355 million over two years to subsidize non-profit facilities that provide subsidized care to Ontario children. The offer was conditioned on Ottawa’s being able to see how Ontario funds programs and controls its growing child care costs.
The Ontario Liberals, who face an election in the fall, have managed to significantly increase the number of daycare spaces that could be subsidized in the last four years while boosting the minimum wage. But they haven’t always managed to get the services to whom they are supposed to be allocated. The total number of subsidized spaces for children four years old and younger in private providers stood at 6.9 million in June, 2015. They rose to 7.3 million in June, 2016.
As the Toronto Star reported on Wednesday, an agreement could have been struck several months ago. In fact, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau agreed to the deal three weeks ago. He had made a similar offer to Quebec, which was willing to accept it but hung up on the optional expansion.
The two sides decided to wait because the Liberals campaigned last fall on a pledge to provide $950 million over two years for programs that provide subsidized spaces to children up to age six. The figure was factored into the details of the agreement with Quebec, which is willing to do an unlimited number of spots.
It’s conceivable that Ottawa and Ontario could reach an agreement after all, but the dangers remain.
Governments in both provinces would be under pressure to find money to fund the expansion. In the federal election, only 31 percent of Canadians polled said they trusted Ottawa to spend the money responsibly. One month after the election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised an additional $1.5 billion over three years. The money has yet to appear. Meanwhile, the Quebec deal provides about 900,000 additional spots.
Since governments already aren’t willing to publicly confront a problem on daycare, the daycare threat could easily develop into one. Depending on who ends up crowing, the offer they caved to or the more generous one they rejected could become the centrepiece of a campaign.
In Canada, the only thing more annoying than disagreement is its facilitation. Now a mediator is involved, a great deal of spin and obfuscation might result. In Ontario, the Liberals appear to be making a move to quell a revolt by social-service providers.
As Mark Schatzker of Families Across Canada, told the Star, “Both governments are playing a dangerous game, because there is a potential for provincial risk, and they’re turning off the only headwind for the subsidy program they want to have going forward.”
Plus, as if the province-to-province stalemate on the province-to-province stand-off on a sit down, Ottawa could turn up the political heat on Ottawa.
Every day, up to $2,000 of income per Ontario family is lost on the cost of child care. The “accessibility, affordability and quality of child care across Canada” should be one of the federal government’s top priorities, Trudeau has said repeatedly. But here it is again, another year and another provincial standoff. A way out could be found, but a commitment from Ottawa to actually find one is overdue.