By Allison Jones
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO- Ontario is launching a grant program for child-care operators to create new spaces, as part of the province’s commitment to add tens of thousands of new spots, a target advocates say will fall well short of demand spurred by $10-a-day care.
The province agreed in its $10-a-day deal with the federal government in March to create 71,000 new child-care spaces by 2026 and the government says it has already made progress, with 53,000 spaces left to be created.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced a $213-million program Monday that will provide one-time grants to new and existing child-care operators to offset initial costs of expanding or creating spaces, such as buying equipment or renovating facilities.
The grants, funded by the federal government as part of its national child-care program, will be prioritized in areas with historically low rates of availability. The province aims to improve flexibility of the hours during which parents can access daycare, Lecce said.
“From helping single parents, to children with special education needs, to everyday parents living in communities where we’re realizing significant growth, we’re ensuring we create spaces to address the modern workplace, including to assist parents who work in shifts, through the night and on weekends,” he said.
Lecce was with federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould to highlight fee reductions for families whose children are enrolled in licensed child-care centres that have opted in to the national program.
Families should be receiving rebates for 25 per cent on average off their fees back to April, with that increasing to 50 per cent reductions by the end of this year.
About 92 per cent of licensed child-care operators in Ontario opted in to the national program, which seeks to lower fees to $10 a day on average by 2026. One of the next big steps for the province in implementing the program is to both meet the space creation promises and to address workforce recruitment and retention.
Advocates and those who work in the sector say the two pieces must happen in tandem, because there is already a staffing shortage in child care, and without better pay and other retention strategies the province will not be able to staff those new spaces.
As part of the deal with the federal government, the province established an $18-an-hour wage floor for registered early childhood educators and $20 for RECE supervisors. Those amounts increase by one dollar each year of the deal.
The Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario has called for a $25 minimum wage for everyone who works in child care and $30 an hour for registered ECEs. As well, they would like to see the implementation of a wage grid, as an incentive for people to stay in the sector.
Lecce said the government is consulting on how to incentivize workers to enter and stay in child care.
“We do understand the correlation of competitive wages and the maintenance of our staff,” he said, adding that while the federal agreement covers space for children aged five and under, the province has also applied the new wage rules to staff caring for children aged six to 12.
Gould noted that the federal government asked provinces and territories to establish a wage grid, and not all have yet done that.
“There’s nothing stopping a province or territory from adding their own resources, like Ontario did for … ECEs that are caring for children age six to 12, but I’ll note that New Brunswick, for example, added about $54 million of their own dollars to increase wages to $23.40 an hour,” she said.
“Nova Scotia and Newfoundland did the same to get up to $25 an hour. Yukon did that get to $30 an hour. Manitoba did that for pension and benefits as well as wage increases, as has British Columbia.”
A report this fall by the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario found particularly high job vacancy rates in nursing and residential care, hospitals, and child care and children’s aid societies. The latter sector had a job vacancy rate of 2.8 per cent in 2019, and that has now climbed to 5.8 per cent, the report said.
The office also said in a later report that demand created by more affordable daycare will leave the province short 220,000 spaces.
Gordon Cleveland, a child-care policy expert and associate professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, said in a report earlier this year that the province will need 300,000 more spaces to address $10-a-day demand.
He said the startup grants won’t be enough, and that Ontario should make grants and public loan guarantees available to non-profit operators, who may not have ready access to capital.
Lecce said the grants announced Monday are a “positive starting point.”
“We’re going to continue to work with all levels of government to keep building capacity, building spaces and reducing fees for families,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2022.