Child care advocates have called on the Premier of Ontario to act on the spirit and requirements of its Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) funding agreement with the Government of Canada.
In a joint letter to Premier Ford, the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario, Childcare Resource and Research Unit and Child Care Now say Ontario’s implementation of the agreement has been “halting and shambolic since the signing of the Canada-Ontario agreement in March 2022, creating confusion and uncertainty for parents, child care staff, service providers and municipal partners.”
Child care advocates are particularly troubled by the Ontario government’s sudden change to the funding guidelines issued to the municipal child care authorities responsible for implementing the first phase of the CWELCC, which is supposed to bring down parent fees for licensed child care by 25 per cent retroactive to April 1, 2022 and by 50 per cent by the end of the year, and put in place a low minimum wage floor for Registered Early Childhood Educators.
Originally the funding guidelines required the municipal authorities to put in place accountability measures to ensure that the significant increase in public funding of operators would be used appropriately. Municipalities were made responsible for determining that the actual costs of child care operators are not inflated and that for-profit operators would not use public funds to finance excessive profits. These guidelines, which cover the disbursement of funds for 2022 only, will be replaced in the future with a new funding formula and funding procedures.
Then, weeks before the deadline by which child care providers had to sign-up to receive the new funding, and as a result of a concerted lobbying effort by for-profit operators, the Government of Ontario did an about-face in August 2022. It published an “Addendum” to the funding guidelines which deleted the previous limits on publicly-funded profit-making and weakened the oversight of municipal authorities.
Child care advocates and policy experts say the Addendum goes against a key provision of the Ontario-Canada funding agreement which commits Ontario to “…implement a cost control framework…ensuring that costs and earnings of child care licensees that opt-in to the to the Canada-Wide early learning and child care system are reasonable and that surplus earnings beyond reasonable earnings are directed towards improving child care services.” (Section 4.0 Financial Provisions)
The federal government has also formally expressed concern about the changed guidelines. Federal Minister for Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould sent Premier Ford a letter, obtained by Toronto Star investigative journalists, to express particular concern “with the removal of all details on undue profits and eligible expenditures that were previously included in the funding guidelines.” Gould made the important point that “with no capacity to review and limit reasonable expenditures and profits, the updates made to the funding guidelines may run counter to the objective of ensuring the sound and reasonable use of public funds.”
Child care advocates are also alarmed by the Ontario government’s failure to live up to its promise to engage the advice of the child care community with respect to all child care matters, and especially with respect to the worsening child care workforce crisis.
“The only consultation that is happening is behind closed doors. As reported in a Toronto Star investigative report, private invitations to a select few to serve on a Minister’s Advisory Table have been made. Meetings began in August but there has been no public announcement about the choice of individuals invited or about meetings, mandate or output of this Table,” the four child care organizations say in their letter to the Premier.
The letter ends by calling on the Premier of Ontario to:
- Reaffirm and act on Ontario’s commitment to the spirit and requirements of the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care plan;
- Respond to the federal government’s recent letter by stating that Ontario will implement the cost-control and financial accountability measures outlined in the Canada-Ontario agreement as relevant to all future Funding Guidelines;
- Engage in public, open consultation on: the funding formula; a child care workforce strategy; non-profit and public expansion; and inclusion. This consultation should be an integrated process that recognizes the intrinsic connections between these facets of a child care system;
- Release the 2021 Annual Report and commit to enhancing – not restricting – ongoing public access to public data.
The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care (OCBCC) is asking other organizations and individuals to write to the Premier in support of these demands.
“It is essential that the Ontario government build an ELCC system in the province that meets the needs of children, families and educators across Ontario,” says Carolyn Ferns, OCBCC public policy coordinator.