Province's funding cuts jeopardize 6,166 subsidized child care spaces in Toronto, staff says

Provincial funding cuts and policy changes could result in 6,166 fewer subsidized child care spaces in Toronto and cost the city more than $80-million this year alone, according to city staff.

Memo from city manager says funding changes could cost Toronto $84.4M this year

Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson's office said in a statement that any loss of subsidized child care spaces would be due solely to the city's own decision making. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Provincial funding cuts and policy changes could result in 6,166 fewer subsidized child care spaces in Toronto and cost the city more than $80-million this year alone, according to city staff.

In a memo to the mayor and council obtained by CBC Toronto on Thursday, City Manager Chris Murray detailed the potential impacts of a reduction in child care funding that was outlined in the province's recent 2019 budget. The fallout will be compounded by considerable changes to existing child care-related cost-sharing models, the memo says.

"As with recent changes to the provincial/municipal cost-sharing arrangements for public health, the City was not consulted or provided with any advance warning of these changes," the memo says.

Murray cautions that city staff are still awaiting precise numbers from the province, but they estimate that, cumulatively, the changes will cost Toronto $84.8 million this year. That figure includes a $28.6-million reduction in direct provincial funding and $56.2-million due to cost-sharing changes, the memo explains. 

"This represents a direct pressure on the 2019 Children's Services Operating Budget, which city council has already approved and for which the municipal levy bylaw has been passed," it continues.

The result is the potential loss of 6,166 subsidized child care spaces in Toronto, the memo estimates.

The overall number of child care spaces is not expected to change, but a smaller number will be filled by children who have access to the subsidy, the city says.

Mayor unhappy with 'dramatic' cuts

Toronto Mayor John Tory criticized the Ford government for suggesting the changes will reduce inefficiencies within the city's child care system.

"They're being very disingenuous when they say it's just about administration," Tory said during an interview Friday on Metro Morning. "These are not efficiencies, these are dramatic cutbacks."

Tory went on to say the Ford government has been treating Toronto more "harshly" than other parts of the province.

John Tory slammed the PCs for what he perceives as a repeated targeting of Toronto's essential services. (CBC)

He said city council will press local PC MPPs and challenge the government to reverse its decision.

"The plan for the moment is to get them to change their mind," he said.

During a news conference at city hall, Toronto deputy mayor Michael Thompson echoed that call.

He said the proposed changes will force families to make "impossible choices" around child care, such as quitting their jobs or opting for cheaper but unlicensed services.

"Those who depend on these programs cannot survive independently without them," said Thompson, flanked by fellow city councillors and families.

"I don't think it's fair for parents and I don't think it's fair for children," said Shila Hosseinzadah, who attended the news conference.

Hosseinzadah currently accesses a subsidy for her child, and said she'll consider a major life change if she loses it.

"If they cut the subsidy, what should I do? Should I quit my job and stay at home with my child?" she asked.

PCs looking to improve efficiency

Premier Doug Ford's government is slashing $80 million from licensed child care services across Ontario, including eliminating a $50 million fund intended to help licensed providers offset costs that would otherwise be passed onto parents.

In an email statement, a spokesperson for Education Minister Lisa Thompson said that the funding cuts are "primarily at the administrative level.

"The City of Toronto should be looking at ways to make their operations more efficient instead of passing on these costs to parents. There is no need for a single child care space to be lost as a result of a 5 per cent administrative change. Any reductions in childcare spaces would be the result of the City of Toronto's own decision making," the spokesperson continued.

The statement also points to the province's new Childcare Access and Relief from Expenses (CARE) tax credit, which was introduced in April's budget. 

The province says that, on average, the tax credit will provide about $1,250 per family for some 300,000 households in Ontario.

In the memo, however, Murray writes that the rebate is "of less benefit to families when compared to a child care fee subsidy." According to city staff calculations, low-income families would be hit hardest by a decrease in the number of subsidized child care spaces.

With files from Lauren Pelley and Lucas Powers