Small changes could have big consequences for Ontario child care

Carolyn Ferns  – 2018-12-02

A memo was sent out to “Early Years and Child Care Partners” from the Ministry of Education in late August. It hasn’t attracted much attention, but with all the hoopla and chaos of the sex-ed rollback, the Toronto City Council cut and the chaotic municipal election, it is easy to understand why.

Sometimes big changes do not come with a big press conference or announcement, nor with a court date, nor even with debate in the legislature.

Under the guise of “choice for families” and “reducing red tape”, the Ministry of Education’s August memo contained two changes that may significantly impact the early learning and child care sector.

First change: The government has lifted the For-Profit Maximum Percentage Threshold. This was a cap, put in place two years ago to limit the amount of public funding that could go to for-profit child care. It didn’t change municipalities’ funding arrangements with for-profit centres that were already in place, but it ensured that the proportion of public funding going to for-profits could not increase as the child care system expanded.

The For-Profit Maximum Percentage Threshold was all about what our future child care system really could be like because it made a priority of expanding child care funds to the public and non-profit sectors. It was a measured and responsible limit put in place to ensure any new public funding to child care would help build a viable system.

The Ford government’s decision to lift the Threshold flies in the face of research, the aspirations of the early learning and child care community and the widespread public consultation that led to the introduction of the Threshold. Clearly the Ford government is listening to other voices. We know from staff in the previous Liberal government that the corporate sector actively lobbied against the creation of the Threshold and as of September have new lobbyist registrations on the provincial lobbyist registry. We also know that one of the biggest international chains, Brightpath, recently expanded into Ontario with the purchase of an Ontario-based chain, Peekaboo.

In response to the Threshold decision, Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care (OCBCC) and Association for Early Childhood Educators Ontario (AECEO) have both written letters to the Ministry opposing this move. The Toronto Star published an editorial decrying the decision. But the change appears to be a fait accompli, coming without consultation.

Second change: The Ministry memo also announced a cut 2018 subsidy funding. This is money that was promised to municipalities back in May to support the second year of a plan to expand child care spaces. This funding will be cut from $48 million to $25.3 million. This cut of $22.7 million, was earmarked to help low-income families—who ordinarily languish on subsidy waiting lists—to help them get their children into these planned new spaces.

The Ministry claims that this cut will have no impact on the number of children assisted. This however, is mathematical sleight of hand: rather than providing 4,200 subsidies from April – December, the smaller pot of funds now provides subsidies to the same number of children…but only from September-December.

If this sounds like a shell game to you, you’re not wrong.

While this change is a small one in the context of total child care funding, it is also just about the only stream of funding for 2018 that could still be cut. By the time it was announced all the money to municipalities should have been delivered. But here was a single pot of funding that could still be cut. So, the government cut it.

This does not bode well for what is to come. Any and all funding for the rest of the 100 000 space expansion plan is subject to next year’s provincial budget. If the government can do this much damage in a single policy memo, imagine what can be done in the provincial budget.

But all is not lost. In response to this threat the child care movement will work harder and more collaboratively than ever. We will find our allies and draw them closer.

If like us you are unhappy with the funding cuts and changes described here, please write your local Conservative MPP. Here is a list of Toronto area MPPs and their email addresses:

  • Etobicoke NorthDoug Ford –
  • Etobicoke CentreKinga Surma  –
  • Etobicoke Lakeshore- Christine Hogarth –
  • Eglinton Lawrence– Robin Martin –
  • Don Valley NorthVincent Ke –
  • Willowdale- Stan Cho –
  • Scarborough Rouge Park – Vijay Thanigasalan –
  • Scarborough Centre – Christina Mitas –
  • Scarborough North – Raymond Cho –
  • Scarborough Agincourt – Aris Babikian –


Carolyn Ferns is the Policy Coordinator for Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care