TORONTO – Parents in parts of Ontario are already receiving rebates under the national $10-a-day childcare program, while operators elsewhere cannot yet apply to be part of the system, leaving a municipal mosaic of daycare prices across the province.
Child care operators in many communities have recently been able to begin enrolling and opting out of the program – although some regions have not yet opened the process – and requests are coming in regularly.
If that pace seems rather slow, keep in mind that Ontario was the last province to join the program, said Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.
“There’s been kind of a message in Ontario that it’s taking a long time for this to roll out,” said Ferns, the group’s public policy and government relations coordinator.
“But really, it’s because we started so late… In BC and Nova Scotia, yeah, it took them six months to get this going, but they started last July.”
Some Ontario municipalities are much more advanced than others.
In Greater Sudbury, seven of the region’s 17 not-for-profit operators have signed up, as has its only for-profit operator, a spokesperson said. The municipality issued approvals for those eight daycare operators last week and rebates have begun, Kelli Sheppard said.
Toronto, on the other hand, has 1,042 licensed child care centres. As of Monday, 255 of the city’s 729 nonprofit operators had applied and 31 of 313 for-profit centers had applied.
Five for-profit operators and four not-for-profit operators have already pulled out, a spokesperson said.
Some municipalities, from Ottawa to St. Thomas in southwestern Ontario, are not yet accepting applications.
In Peel Region, west of Toronto, the majority of operators have expressed interest in joining the program, but some are complaining about the process, which requires them to submit an “expression of interest” before obtaining details.
Experts say the rollout of the program in Ontario differs from other provinces, in part because child care is funded by municipalities rather than directly by the province.
“I think one of the challenges of Ontario’s role is that a lot of this has been delegated to the municipality,” said Adrienne Davidson, an assistant professor of political science at McMaster University who specializes in child care policies.
“Rather than having a coordinated, centralized system or coordinated messaging on what a deal looks like for every supplier in the province, it’s a bit of a patchwork.”
Andrea Hannen, executive director of the Association of Day Care Operators of Ontario, said it seems initially municipalities want to negotiate agreements on a site-by-site basis. Both for-profit and nonprofit members have concerns, she said.
“Child care licensees would have a lot more confidence in the process if they were given a standard daily rate and a standard contract,” she said.
“It seems that if a center goes on the $10-a-day scheme, it’s actually the municipal bureaucrats who will decide when the center can replace the toys, how much rent they’ll be allowed to pay… There’s an awful lot of micromanagement budgets.”
Some for-profit operators and their representative organizations have raised concerns. This drew backlash from advocates of a nonprofit, public child care system.
But Kim Yeaman, who runs a for-profit child care center in Innisfil, Ont., said her concerns are shared by many private operators, such as the ability to pay the mortgage.
“People need to know that we are absolutely desperate to provide this for parents,” she said. “But we can’t do that and not pay our bills.”
She also doesn’t want to enroll for one year and then has to opt out for the next. Despite her concerns, Yeaman said she was leaning towards applying, in part because it appears her Simcoe County municipality is working to allay those fears.
When determining a center’s “base fee” on which to calculate rebates, the county will include anything that was part of the program when Ontario signed the child care agreement, the municipality told reporters. operators. This includes features like music lessons, yoga, and second-language lessons, as long as parents don’t pay extra for them.
“The program ($10 a day) is not intended to force programs to ‘look alike,'” the county wrote in its program guidelines. “The uniqueness of licensees in Simcoe County is appreciated.”
Parents are expected to get an initial 25% discount after their center joins, followed by another discount at the end of the year to cut fees in half, on average. Fees will be lowered in subsequent years to average $10 per day by 2025.
In the first year, operators will be able to cover expenses deemed ineligible under the program, such as mortgage and property tax payments, with their remaining parental fees, the county noted. But it has raised operator concerns about these costs with the provincial government for years to come.
Ontario recognizes the valuable role that for-profit operators play and will work to remove any barriers that arise, the government said.
Grace Lee, spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said the deal “protects parental choice”.
“We have met with many for-profit operators and fought for them every step of the way, and we will continue to advocate for them with federal and municipal governments, so that all parents can benefit from these savings,” a- she wrote in a statement.
Sharon Siriboe, director of the Ontario Association of Independent Child Care Centers and who runs a child care center in Peel Region, said operators want more time beyond the September 1 deadline to decide whether or not to participate in the program. .
“Hopefully…there’s some kind of way to extend that timeframe and give suppliers a chance to really ask the right questions,” she said. “Then we can move forward to make an informed decision.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 12, 2022.