As part of their proposed $2.2 billion budget, the Ontario Liberal government announced Tuesday that they will make full-day childcare free for children from the age of two and a half until they go to kindergarten (dependent on their re-election in the June provincial election, of course). While the move is something desperate parents have been calling for to ease the ever-inflating cost of daycare, critics aren’t quite sure it’s possible.
The childcare section of the new budget will also focus on making licenced childcare more universally accessible by supporting daycare expansions and improving wages for early childhood education workers. Accessibility is a crucial component to this bill because the places with low access to childcare services are typically the very same communities that need affordable daycare the most. The acknowledgement of that in government policy is encouraging.
In her announcement speech, Premiere Kathleen Wynne took a page out of the federal Liberals’ budget and addressed how expensive daycare disproportionately disadvantages women. Like it or not, more women than men are still tasked with either making the decision to stay home to take care of children or finding adequate (and affordable) childcare outside the home.
“When childcare falls out of reach for a family, it is most often the women, the mothers, who end up struggling with that tough call to either go back to work or to stay home,” Wynne said, “Even if those [childcare] choices are available to them, if they are not affordable, that’s not helpful.”
The gender-conscious budgets put forth by both the federal and Ontario Liberals are meant to offer a leg up to women and minorities who are often already at economic or professional disadvantages and then overlooked in governmental decisions. The free daycare is a huge offering and could, according to Wynne, save working families $17,000 a year per child and ease the financial burden of mothers who want or need to go back to work. Unfortunately, some people aren’t sure the government can afford it.
The plan is not mean to roll out until 2020 and experts seem to be split on if that is enough time for the province to adapt their childcare systems and pay the bill. Budgets are always a matter of priority so the large investment in childcare will require compromise somewhere else or a tax increase (as if Ontarians haven’t seen enough of that in the past few years). Critics of Wynne’s government are calling the plan a Hail Mary for the Liberals who are looking at low polling numbers as the June 7 provincial election approaches. Some have gone so far as to accuse Wynne of thinking she is Oprah.
A lot of “ifs” remain with regards to this budget, but if the Liberals can keep it together until 2020, they could be doing something incredible for working parents.