Daycare workers and their supporters from across Quebec assembled in Montreal on Sunday to protest against possible rate hikes in the province's subsidized daycare program..

Thousands of daycare workers and parents with young children in tow gathered at Place des Festivals in downtown Montreal, bundled up and holding placards, banging drums and honking horns.

Protests were also held in other Quebec municipalities including Trois-Rivières, Sept-Îles and Rouyn-Noranda, as rumours swirl about possible — and substantial — fee hikes by Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government.

Daycare demo CPE

Hundreds of people assembled in the Quartier des Spectacles to protest possible plans to increase daycare fees. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

The rumours began circulating in September, and were renewed again this past week, after sources told media organizations about ongoing conversations within the government to radically alter the subsidized daycare program.

The most notable consideration is a proposal to change the fee structure from $7.30-a-day to a sliding-scale fee based on household income.

Protester Guillaume Allyson said he feared the financial impact higher daycare fees would have on his family.

Daycare owner Johanne Lapointe said the change would hurt single parents and struggling families the most.

The subsidized daycare program in Quebec costs the government $2.7 billion for 223,000 spaces.

Québec Solidaire and Parti Québécois leaders Françoise David and Stéphane Bédard were at the Places des Festivals to lend their support to the protesters.

David called daycares an "essential service" and said the subsidized program was a worthwhile program to maintain. She said CPEs made a world of difference for her generation of women, giving them the freedom to work.

Sliding scale?

The subsidized daycare program has been in existence since 1997 as a way to encourage women to rejoin the workforce after having children.

Guillaume Allyson

Guillaume Allyson and family went to the protest on Sunday. He said he was worried what the higher fees would mean for his household income. (Brigitte Noël/CBC)

The parental contribution was first set at $5 a day. It was raised to $7 in January 2004 and to $7.30 last month.

Under former premier Pauline Marois, the fees were to go up to $8 in 2014 and $9 in 2015.

When he was elected last April, Premier Philippe Couillard vowed to index the cost of daycare to the cost of living, which he did on Oct. 1 when the fee was raised by 30 cents.

However, there are reports the fee could be raised to as much as $20 a day for some parents, depending on their income, as early as April 1, 2015.

Families Minister Francine Charbonneau said parents need to pitch in a little bit more to ensure the program remains healthy for their children and for generations to come.

"The families right now that get the service of $7.30 a day only pay 13 per cent of the bill. At the beginning, when we started that system, the families were paying 20 per cent of the bill. So we have to understand that Quebec cannot maintain the way that it’s running right now," Charbonneau said.

'I’m very surprised that people think it’s a universal service, because not everybody has access, not everybody pays the same thing.' - Francine Charbonneau, Families Minister

She said a sliding scale is one of several options the government is currently weighing as it looks at how daycare is funded.

The silence from the government isn't helping put Quebecers' minds at ease, she admitted, but said that as soon as the government had a solid plan, they would make it known to the public.

She said that she hopes to table a bill as soon as possible.

Current system is not universal

Charbonneau said she understands why daycare workers and parents are worried, but she promised the government was taking great care in analyzing its current situation and how to make the system work better for more people.

She said that, as it stands, daycare in Quebec is not universal.

"I’m very surprised that people think it’s a universal service, because not everybody has access, not everybody pays the same thing. The people who came out today are all from the same system," Charbonneau said, referring to the subsidized early-childhood education centres (CPEs), where parents pay $7.30 per day.

"We have people paying up to $60 a day to have [private daycare] service, so it’s not universal. It’s not the same everywhere and it’s not the same price for everybody.”

Daycare associations say the subsidized daycare program already brings the government $1.50 in revenues for every $1 it puts in, because it allows so many more parents to stay in the workforce.

Here by the bus load, hundreds protesting plan to index daycare to income.

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