National Child Care Program Calls on Cities to Step Up

by Markus O’Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff

When the Federal budget was tabled this week with a call for a Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care System, my first thought was just my luck.  After seven years of child care expenses, the Federal government has called for a 50% reduction in the average child care fees (outside of Quebec) by the end of 2022. This came a year too late for me, but there’s no denying the help this will provide young families, especially in Toronto. And it’s a call to action for local governments to be ready to step up.

Anyone who has looked for childcare knows that the cost is only one of the barriers in accessing licensed spaces. Even if you can afford them, the spaces themselves are hard to find. The best advice remains – the first person you tell when you’re expecting a baby is the person managing the childcare waitlist.

As the population has grown in Willowdale, the City of Toronto has not done a good enough job to ensure that new childcare centres have been added. In recent years there have been no childcare centres built in Willowdale through the capital plan via Development Charges.

John has filled the void using section 37 funds, the money collected from development for community infrastructure.  Using this tool, new centres have been possible in new developments such as at the Sheppard Centre, in local schools like Avondale, or in other community spaces like at Lansing United Church. But with the Ontario government eliminating that community benefit formula, Willowdale will see much less of this funding in the future.

It’s going to become critical for the City to overcome this financing challenge and ensure that the right amount of Development Charge revenue, along with the new Community Benefit revenue, will be used in the neighbourhoods that generate it.

When the City last looked at child care growth in 2017, the needs analysis concluded that the high cost of childcare was limiting the need for immediate growth.  With the median cost of an infant space close to $1,700 per month, undoubtedly many parents dropped out of the workforce instead of facing these costs. But there were still long waitlists in Willowdale.

This week’s announcement recognizes that parents, and especially moms, shouldn’t have to choose between a career and a quality child care space. With more parents working, this program along could boost the Canadian economy by 1.2%. But it seems likely to super-charge the demand for spaces. The City of Toronto needs a plan to react, and they may need it very quickly.