Parents across Canada are paying a wide range of fees for child care, from a low of $152 a month in Quebec to a high of $1,676 for infant care in Toronto.

But the affordability of daycare in Canadian cities also varies by the average incomes of women in the workforce.

A study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has developed an affordability index for daycare that found Brampton, Ont., a city west of Toronto, is the least affordable and Gatineau, Que., as the most.

The index compares the median costs of fully licensed child-care centres and licensed family child-care to the average income of working mothers.

“This is the reality parents face,” says Kate McInturff, a researcher on the study. “It’s a confirmation of what most parents know from their own experience.”

Quebec’s $7-a-day fixed fee for daycare puts the four Quebec cities in the study at the top of the list for affordability. Daycare fees rise to $7.50 a day in Quebec at the end of the year, but the provincewide program has led to a sharp increase in women’s participation in the workforce.

Daycare and economic security

Gatineau, Que., rises to the top of the affordability ranking because women there tend to have well-paid jobs in the civil service.

Quebec families have improved economic security because of the daycare program, McInturff said.

The study also found that, in general, daycare becomes more affordable and more available as children get older, with infant care (for children under 18 months) much more expensive than care for preschoolers aged three to five.

Toronto has the most expensive child-care costs, at $1,676 a month for infants under 18 months, $1,324 for toddlers and $998 for preschoolers.

Although fees in Brampton are lower than those in Toronto, incomes there are much lower, so that 36 per cent of a woman’s income, or the equivalent of four months of work, goes to daycare fees.

Toronto, London, Ont., Windsor, Ont., and Surrey, B.C., are close behind Brampton in being relatively unaffordable.

The study points to a Statistics Canada finding that 49 per cent of women in Alberta who worked part-time said they opted for part-time work because they couldn’t afford child care.

Subsidies vs. income splitting

“If we want to remove barriers to economic security for women so they have equal access to paid work, what we need is a federal subsidy for child care,” McInturff added.

How much of a woman's income goes to child care?
1. Gatineau, Que.: 4% 11. Vancouver: 29%
2. Laval, Que.: 5% 12. Kitchener, Ont.: 30%
3. Quebec City: 6% 13: Hamilton: 31%
4. Montreal: 6% 14: Mississauga, Ont.: 32%
5: Winnipeg: 15% 15. St. John's: 32%
6. Saskatoon: 23% 16: Windsor, Ont.: 32%
7. Edmonton: 24% 17: Toronto: 34%
8. Ottawa: 26% 18: London, Ont.: 34%
9. Calgary: 26% 19: Surrey, B.C.: 35%
10 Halifax: 28% 20: Brampton, Ont.: 36%

In advocating a federal subsidy, McInturff says she is not endorsing the NDP plan for federal child-care support so that no family pays more than $15 a day. But she says income splitting, the tax incentive being implemented by the Harper government, is a poor alternative to government support for childcare.

“In every other country where they’ve implemented income splitting, we’ve seen women’s participation in the workforce goes down, but men’s doesn’t go up,” she said.

“You get a smaller labour force, which isn’t good for economic growth,” she added.

McInturff pointed out that most Canadian women are working, so parents end up paying the fees because they have no alternative, and people shouldn't believe that a daycare subsidy is going to change their choices.

'But despite the high concentration of mothers who work, Canada ranks second last in the OECD in government spending on early childhood education and care.' —Parent Trap co-author Martha Friendly

“We’ve got to move past the idea that restructuring child care is going to change choices by parents who don’t need it,” she said.

The study points out that Canada spends less on early childhood education and care than most OECD countries, although a large proportion of Canadian families have both parents in the workplace.

“More than three-quarters of mothers with children under the age of six are part of Canada’s labour force,” said Martha Friendly, co-author of the report, in a news release.

“But despite the high concentration of mothers who work, Canada ranks second last in the OECD in government spending on early childhood education and care,” she said.

CHILD CARE FEES IN CANADA'S BIG CITIES