Giving parents up to $6,750 per child in a taxpayer-funded rebate of child-care costs is a key plank in the Ontario Progressive Conservative party's efforts to win next June's provincial election.
The promise from PC Leader Patrick Brown is to create a new "Ontario Child Care Refund." It would be provided as a refundable tax credit rather than a tax deduction, so even if a parent pays no income tax he or she would still receive money from the government.
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"Families in every corner of our province are struggling to find child care, and if they can find it, they struggle to pay for it," Brown said in a campaign-style event at a daycare in Mississauga earlier this week. "Families can barely afford child care and I want to offer them help."
The refund would cover up to 75 per cent of eligible child-care costs, which the PCs peg at $9,000 yearly per child under age six; $5,000 per child aged six to 15; and $11,000 for a child (aged 15 or under) with a severe disability.
That means the maximum annual refunds would be:
- $6,750 per child under age six.
- $3,750 per child aged six to 15.
- $8,250 per child with a severe disability.
The refund percentages would be paid on a sliding scale based on household income. The maximum refund of 75 per cent would go only to parents who earn less than $35,000 a year in household income, while parents earning more would get a smaller amount.
Some examples of other refund percentages proposed by the PCs:
Refund of child care costs
|$52,850 - $95,380||60 %|
|$95,380 - $136,925||57 %|
|$155,095 - $200,000||28 %|
- a parent earning $55,000 with two children age six to 15 would be eligible for $6,000.
- a couple earning $135,000 with two children age six to 15 would be eligible for $5,700.
- a parent or parents with one child under six would be eligible for $5,400, whether their annual household income is $53,000 or $95,000 a year.
The PCs say they would not provide any taxpayer-funded rebate on daycare fees to families with annual household incomes greater than $200,000.
Why subsidize the child-care costs of families with six-figure incomes?
"Our plan is targeted to helping lower-income, middle-class families the most significantly," said Brown. "The greatest relief happens for those under $150,000."
"We know Ontario has become almost unlivable in terms of the cost of hydro and the cost of daycare," said PC finance critic Vic Fedeli. "People need relief right across the board."
The PCs say the refund would cost taxpayers an extra $389 million a year compared to the current system of giving an income tax deduction on child-care expenses.
The PCs also say they would follow through on Premier Kathleen Wynne's commitment, announced in 2016, to create 100,000 new licensed child care spaces over the next five years.
Indira Naidoo-Harris, the minister responsible for early years and child care in the Wynne government, dismisses the PC refund.
"Frankly, I think this is a vote grab," said Naidoo-Harris. She said the PC plan would be "very basic," and while it would give people cash it would not build a daycare system.
"Their math doesn't add up. They're going to bring in $12 billion in cuts," she said. "I do not see how they can do this without cutting child care on a very real level."
The Liberals will likely unveil some campaign promises on child care costs, based on the results of a government-commissioned study due in early 2018 on how to make child care "universally accessible and affordable to all Ontario families."
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"You can give money back to parents all you want, but unless there's actual availability of quality not-for-profit child care in this province, that promise goes really not very far," said NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
She favours a system that would eliminate for-profit daycare operators, but the party is yet to release the specifics of its platform ahead of the election in June.
"We support affordable fees across the board for everybody so that if you make more money, you pay more money," said Laurel Rothman, interim co-ordinator of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.
The PC proposal "is a tax measure, it's not a child-care plan," Rothman said in an interview Wednesday with CBC News. "It's at best a band-aid for a few people, but it's not a solid policy that will deliver services in communities."