Ontario is like all other provinces: it is a place where policies and services are made and implemented over months and sometimes years. There are numerous debates about taxes, services, and government-owned firms. With that background, it is clear that the 40-page Ontario budget made headlines only because there were large numbers of parents and children making the news (while politicians were not).
The province had to undertake a larger-than-normal budget due to the fact that this was a tight election year, and the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PCO) was elected (and has since passed all the required leadership tests).
Many observers have lauded the provincial budget, or in the words of Charles Lammam, Senior Tax Analyst at the Fraser Institute: “the potential for real change in Ontario is the highest it has been since the 1990s,” and indeed, a large part of the budget document was devoted to child care.
Various provincial leaders are happy to note the fact that the budget contained the announcement of a “new Child Care Benefit,” which will offer various parents up to $250 for the first child, $100 for each additional child (at a maximum rate of $180 per month). Couples are also eligible for a monthly $70 cash payment for each child.
These announcements may be nice, but how will they affect Ontarians? Who will see the largest benefit?
The most recent Elections Ontario report shows that, of the 1.7 million ballots cast in the 2016 provincial election, 158,235 (13.7%) were voted for PC candidates. If Liberal policies had been as popular, they would have garnered 109,481 (12.8%) of the votes cast. The NDP received 21,684 (4.3%) of the votes cast.
Couples are also eligible for a monthly $70 cash payment for each child.
As a reminder, the 2018 Ontario budget is not a “full budget”; it consists of one main section (Kids) and two other (housing, workplace) sections. The intention of the Kids section is to provide short-term funding to some of the actions that the province plans to take over a five-year term.
The NDP’s numbers for the 2017 provincial election are not available, but it is important to remember that while the NDP was elected in part on the success of the Green Party’s Niki Ashton, the campaign gave voters the choice between two “fiscally conservative” parties: the Liberals and PCs.
The government provides data on child care user costs and expenditures.
The childcare user costs range from very low prices for very low-income users (only $50 per month for a one-year infant care program) to high costs for more middle-class users: $950 per month (over the life of a child) for a three-year old child care program. The highest expenditures for almost any Ontario childcare plan (outside of private operators) are from the large, subsidized childcare providers (Carefree Early Learning + Learning is the leader).
This is important because, as indicated above, we know that families with more resources tend to use more child care services. The fact that many Ontario parents and children are left high and dry when it comes to government child care supports reflects the fact that government support is not what it is supposed to be: flexible, and adapted to the needs of families.
The biggest challenges to parents and children are lack of accessibility, weak supports and support costs, inadequate pre-school services, and bureaucratic barriers to choices. That means that a system that costs parents $50 per month per child, and creates barriers to quality early education and care has many challenges.
As the incoming PC regime begins to deal with its previous austerity agenda, it should take care to meet many of the complaints from childcare advocates to ensure that the proposed Child Care Benefit is, first and foremost, cost-effective and meaningful for children and parents. And if the province wants to maximize its benefits while also providing quality, accessible and cost-effective child care services, it should consider investing in an expansion of current in-service high-quality programs.
Some Ontario parents and children are heading to space stations in the near future (a great many of these children are already public school students). Others will stay behind and launch themselves into the next great challenges (expanding mental health services for children; improving care for Canadians with disabilities); and others will become responsible parents and caregivers.
The real benefit for Ontario will not be seen by the province’s new next leader, a new PC MLA, or a new premier. It will be