Toronto

Toronto child-care costs dominate debate at budget committee meeting

City councillors continued to speak out against proposals in this year's budget that could lead to parents spending even more money on child-care.

Province, parents paying more, while city invests less in child-care, councillors told

Toronto parents pay the highest child-care fees in the entire country, and two councillors are warning those costs could climb if the city passes its new budget as is. (CBC)

City councillors continued to speak out against proposals in this year's budget that could lead to parents spending even more money on child-care.

Toronto's budget committee met Thursday, with councillors quizzing staff about a range of cuts departments have made to achieve Mayor John Tory's target of slashing 2.6 per cent from each of their budgets. But questions over the cost of child-care dominated the debate.

Coun. Janet Davis warned about a shortage of subsides available to Toronto parents who need help with the cost of daycare. Some 18,350 people are now on a waiting list to get a subsidy, a number Davis said is the highest she's ever seen, and the councillor for Ward 31, Beaches-Woodbine said three-quarters of the budget deputations she's read are from parents complaining about the soaring costs of child-care.

"We need to step up," Davis told CBC Toronto at city hall.

"We're reneging on a council directive to add subsides this year."

Coun. Gord Perks, meanwhile, confirmed with city staff that while the province and Toronto parents are spending more on the city's child-care program every year, the city is paying proportionately less.

"We're breaking the services that make this a liveable city and we're putting it on the back of people whose kids are in daycare, people who use transit, people who use our recreation programs," the councillor for Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park said.

A plan to save $1.13 million this year by stopping occupancy grants — which help pay the bills for local school boards that house child-care spaces — also remains in place.

Will council reverse course?

Coun. Janet Davis speaks out against proposed child-care cuts at a city hall news conference. (John Rieti/CBC)

Davis, who wants the city to reverse course and invest some $3.5 million in child-care, said it will be up to council whether or not to help parents struggling to pay the highest child-care fees in the country.

"I don't hear any commitment to really looking at child-care," she said following the meeting.

Budget Chief Gary Crawford, speaking with reporters after the morning budget session, said council will work to find the money to fund the Student Nutrition Program. However, he was noncommittal about stopping child-care funding cuts.

"We are seriously looking at every opportunity," he said.

Crawford said this year's budget will save the city some $170 million and create a leaner, more efficient government if it's approved as planned.

"We are going to have to make some tough choices," said Crawford.

Tory, who met with provincial and federal Liberal politicians on Thursday to discuss topics like affordable housing and public transit, admitted this would be a difficult budget. However, the mayor said he's hoping the city can save money while still supporting its most vulnerable people.

City decisions affect both parents and daycare operators

The city's proposal to not increase subsidies would affect low- and middle-income families alike, as well as those who operate daycares.

The city currently offers 26,059 subsidized daycare spaces, but there are over 70,000 spaces in the city.

Those daycares, Davis explained, rely on a mix of subsidized parents and full-fee paying parents.

Right now, there aren't enough subsidies for low-income families, she said. Even middle-income families often can't afford the cost, which ranges in median price from $1,150 to $1,649 per month, according to a recent study.

With full-fee spaces going unfilled, some daycare operators are either reducing the number of spots available in their programs or going out of business.

Davis calls for property tax increase

More funding could be on the way from other governments, but Davis argues the city can't rely on that.

"Yes, the provincial and federal government should be funding child-care, but so should the city," she said.

"We've got to put our money where our mouth is."

Davis wants the city to consider increasing property taxes to help cut the cost of child-care. But Crawford said he's reluctant to put that on the table and said the city has been successful while keeping property tax increases to the rate of inflation.

The Children's Services budget represents about five per cent of the city's entire $10.46 billion budget.

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