Ontario, Ottawa negotiate to finalize child-care deal as pressure builds on Ford

Ontario is now alone in not having agreed to Trudeau’s plan for publicly funded national child care, but an agreement is close at hand: source

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OTTAWA – Negotiations are underway this week over a daycare deal between Ontario and the federal government following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement on Monday of a new agreement with Nunavut for publicly funded child care.


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Ontario is now alone among the provinces and territories in not having agreed to Trudeau’s plan for publicly funded national child care, but an agreement is close at hand according to a source in the Ontario government.

The deal with Nunavut, in which the federal government will pay $66 million over five years, plans to increase the number of spaces in daycare and reduce fees, eventually lowering them to $10 a day per child by March 2024.

Ontario has been talking with the federal government for months but has yet to come to terms on an agreement, which Trudeau said Monday he’s eager to get done.

“We have been ready to reach an agreement with Ontario for many, many months now. The frame of the agreement has been set out for a long time,” Trudeau said. “It’s a little over $10 billion that we are ready to send to Ontario for early learning and child care. We very much hope that the Ontario government decides that it is in both their interests and mostly the interests of Ontario families to move forward.”


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Ivana Yelich, a spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, said the province is at the table looking for the best long-term deal.

“Our officials are meeting with their federal counterparts today and throughout the week. We are continuing to make progress on achieving a fair and sustainable deal for Ontarians,” she said.

The Liberals put aside $30 billion in last year’s budget and campaigned on a national child-care plan that aims to create more spaces and reduce fees to $10 per day within five years. The deals the government has signed with other provinces and territories generally require the subnational government to create more spaces, reduce fees by 50 per cent in the first year, and then down to $10 per day within five years, in exchange for federal funding.


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An Ontario government official familiar with the negotiations said the talks are close, with both sides wanting a deal and no clear hurdles in the way, but noted that the province’s system is more complex than others, with a mix of private and not-for-profit operators. The National Post is granting anonymity to the source, who was unauthorized to speak on the record.

The provincial government also wants to ensure any agreement is fiscally sustainable so that a future Ontario government isn’t left funding a heavier share of the program. Ontario has also sought credit in the negotiations for its kindergarten program, which has all-day classes and starts younger than in other provinces.

Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould said a deal with Ontario will complement the province’s existing all-day kindergarten program. “This is specifically an agreement about early learning and child care. It is meant to be additive to what is already existing,” she said. “We’ve been very clear from the beginning that kindergarten is beyond the scope of the agreement (and) that has been clear since we sent the provinces and territories our initial offer back last spring.”


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Ontario is required to have an election before June and Ford’s opponents have been pressuring him to finalize a deal. Andrew Enns, vice president with polling company Leger, said that Ford’s opponents could succeed in making the lack of a daycare deal part of their campaign, and a problem for Ford. As parents in other provinces start seeing lower daycare fees, the pressure could build, Enns said.

“You’re starting to put an Ontario parent at a disadvantage, potentially, compared to a parent elsewhere in the country,” he said. Leger polling in December showed Ford with a 10-point lead, but other pollsters have recently shown a closer race.

Child care has not always been a top issue for voters, but Enns said that could change given that the rising cost of living is quickly becoming a hot issue.

“You’re going to hear a lot about that, housing affordability, the price of stuff. You don’t want to have to be defending your decision or your late decision to move on this one.”

Email: rtumilty@postmedia.com



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