It's Time For Universal Child Care In Ontario
When Rebecca and I started having children, we worried about things most first-time parents worry about: are we ready, will we be good parents, how are we going to survive? We also worried about money. Buying food and clothes, all those necessities that come with adding a new human into the world, and saving for their education.
We also knew that we had to try and get a spot at a daycare as soon as possible, enough friends and family had told us that. Living in Toronto at the time we went on the city’s waitlist. We called ever so often to ask if one had opened up, but eventually we gave up and found a different solution that made sense. We did eventually get a call back, only it was two years later while we were expecting our second child.
Rebecca and I ended up having three children in four years, each two years apart. Which meant that as they grew up, we had two of them in childcare at a time for four consecutive years. Between our reduced income during parental leave, and the cost of childcare at $17,000 per child ($34,000 per year), those years were tough. We calculated that we were better off financially with Rebecca going back to work as a registered nurse full-time than we would be if she stayed home, but not by much.
Alvin Tedjo pictured with his wife and three children
We only stopped paying for daycare last year when our youngest started full-day kindergarten, and we couldn’t help but feel like it was a bit late for the government to start supporting children, where childcare before that magic age of four cost us as much as sending an 18-year old off to college or university. One that we didn’t have OSAP or an RESP to save for.
And while we managed through those years, childcare has become so unaffordable that 80 per cent of Ontario families with children under four years old cannot afford the cost of licensed child care. And across Ontario, there are only enough licensed spaces to accommodate 23 per cent of kids under the age of four. Which quite frankly, is just not good enough.
We have a real problem in Ontario. Our province is home to Canada’s highest childcare fees. Costs are particularly high in the GTA, but families across the province are feeling the squeeze. Many families are paying mortgage-level fees to access licensed childcare, and many more families can’t afford childcare at all.
I believe that is simply unacceptable, and it is why I’m making childcare my first policy proposal in my bid to become leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.
This also isn’t just a problem for families, it’s a problem for Ontario’s economy. We have to address these barriers that force many people, most often women, out of the workforce or to pass up career advancement opportunities. The pressure that parents face — a choice between taking on a massive financial burden or dropping out of the workforce — is bad for individuals, families and the province. Parents should be able to choose what’s best for their family, and have the flexibility to use a system that supports parents of all walks of life.
Alvin speaks to a child in the foreground, while adults and children are gathered in the background.
The solution to this problem is right in front of us. High-quality universal licenced childcare can support better education outcomes for school aged children, improve social cohesion, take pressure off the family budget, and above all else, boost Ontario’s economy by giving families, and particularly women, the option of returning to the workplace sooner, leading to increased economic productivity as well as additional tax revenues for the government.
This is the right thing to do to support Ontario’s parents and a critical step to grow Ontario’s economy.
I know that this plan will take time — it’s a big project with no quick fix. So we will manage the change over several years, starting by reviewing the existing mix of subsidies, credits and delivery mechanisms to ensure we deliver the greatest value possible for Ontarians. And as we do this, we will work with parents, providers, educators, and municipalities every step of the way.
After the review, we will start to deliver universal childcare in phases. Phase 1 will implement the changes recommended in the Cleveland Report for the expansion of universal childcare to preschool aged children.
As we implement phase 1 and build out the capacity to support and provide preschool aged children with childcare, we will work with our partners on expanding universal childcare to toddlers (age 1 ½–2 ½ years old).
To provide for infant care (the most expensive care to administer) the Federal government has done the right thing by extending EI benefits from 12 months to 18 months of job-protected leave. As a long-time champion of parental leave benefits across Canada, I’m very proud of this expansion and the inclusion of five-weeks (or eight-weeks for those taking 18 months) protected leave for the second parent.
Unfortunately, the program only provides 12 months worth of EI payments spread out over that time. So while Ontario is building our ambitious universal childcare system, we would call on the federal government to continue to show leadership by boosting EI parental benefits to more closely reflect the true costs borne by Ontario parents, and in the interim, have the province enhance the 18 month benefits to the 12 month levels.
In the short term, this expansion will require investments. In the long run, increased employment for parents, particularly for mothers, will contribute to the growth of Ontario’s economy. The taxes associated with their spending power, improved educational outcomes for children, and decreased costs to social programs will provide a return that makes this plan an economic winner, as well as the right thing to do.
The consensus among experts and economists is that for every dollar invested in quality early childhood education, there is a $2.40 return to the economy.
This is a true investment in the future of Ontario’s people and economy.
Contrast this approach with what Doug Ford’s PC government is doing. They are currently spending $390 million per year on a tax credit that doesn’t even make a dent in the true cost of childcare. They did this, despite an expert report to the Ontario government showing that a tax credit is the least effective way of making childcare more affordable and is the worst option for letting parents get back to work sooner.
The Ford “solution” isn’t giving Ontarians what they need. Reallocating the money wasted on this inefficient program will cover much of what is needed to get this more efficient solution off the ground.
In addition to the immediate benefit of reducing the financial burden of childcare on families, experts agree that providing affordable, accessible childcare is the most effective way to increase workforce participation and reduce the gender wage gap.
- A study by Deloitte estimates that by addressing the wage gap, Ontario government revenues from personal and sales tax could increase by $2.6 billion.
- The same study also estimates that government spending on social assistance, tax credits, and child benefits could decrease by $103 million, due to the projected increase in families’ income.
- Multiple studies on the economic benefits of early childhood education suggest that for every dollar invested in ECE, there are roughly $2.40 returned to Ontario’s economy.
- It’s estimated that nearly 40,000 people in Ontario (again, mostly women) would return to or increase their work in some capacity, generating nearly $800 million in additional government revenue, and over $6.7 billion in economic activity.
This is an ambitious idea. One that will take a lot of work and thought to implement. I’m open to hearing from all Ontarians. If you would like to share your thoughts on how we can best make universal childcare work for Ontario, please email us at email@example.com.