Op-ed: Ontario and Ottawa can end their child care squabble

Ontario and Ottawa are acting like boys who won’t play nice with each other. Rather than striking a bargain that might actually benefit a lot of families in the region, the two levels of…

Op-ed: Ontario and Ottawa can end their child care squabble

Ontario and Ottawa are acting like boys who won’t play nice with each other.

Rather than striking a bargain that might actually benefit a lot of families in the region, the two levels of government are already at loggerheads over scheduling for people working in federally subsidized child care.

The heart of the problem is that the Liberal government in Ottawa needs to find a way to get Ottawa’s share of spending from Ottawa’s Temporary Federal Child Care Benefit and increase it to the $20 billion it has been budgeting to raise the provincial share of child care costs, which is set to increase $8 billion to $30 billion. That’s a steep increase that, if not eventually covered by Ottawa, would need to be covered by the province.

Ontario’s concerns are that Ottawa might unilaterally alter how it calculates the program and thus raise premiums to pay for the additional costs and that, after doing so, Ottawa will keep doing so until the province eventually gets its way, which is better late than never.

Ottawa, meanwhile, is cutting a hand-out to provinces whose governments have high rates of child care subsidies, such as Quebec and New Brunswick, by as much as $1.7 billion over five years.

The provincial-federal squabble has been brewing for years, but the fact that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought in a Liberal cabinet that includes people from Quebec, which has one of the highest child care ratios in the country, only adds to the theatrics. It hasn’t helped that the premiers of Quebec and New Brunswick, along with others, aren’t enthusiastic about the approach to child care reform because they’re worried about losing the handouts they receive from Ottawa to cover the child care subsidy.

The bickering around child care is turning the two levels of government into a hyper-partisan battle royale. Most Canadians are happy to see the existing provincial and federal subsidies for child care reduced or eliminated — the question is how to do so, and how to fund the children who still need care while protecting current services and protecting the workers who are helping the vulnerable families.

Ontario and Ottawa should resolve their differences so families in the region don’t have to suffer because the leaders on either side don’t like each other.

Compromise has been shown to work. In fact, it seems so obvious, one would think, that it shouldn’t require a federal minister to give it a try.

One obstacle is provincial bureaucrats and politicians pushing too hard to have the province stick it to the federal government. But you get the sense that both the provincial and federal governments agree they need to work together to help children in Ontario and across the country. The offer for them to do that involves a big raise for the child care workers and a cut to the subsidies for provinces such as Quebec that aren’t very good at providing that benefit.

The best approach would be for the provinces to sit down with Ottawa, their Prime Minister and their child care ministers and work out a plan together to make the transition to child care funding more fair so the subsidies don’t rise unnecessarily for provinces who aren’t very good at providing child care.

That’s a long-term challenge and one that will cost a lot of money. But if provinces can set aside their bad feelings about Ottawa or Ontario and work together so that more Canadians have access to child care resources, the benefits will be felt over time.

Too often child care has been a sideshow in provinces and territories that like to posture at the expense of vulnerable families. It’s time Ontario and Ottawa cut their posturing and work out a deal that will help improve the lives of thousands of families in the region — and all across the country.

Mary Phillips is director of The Library of Congress’s Child Care and Family Policy Program.

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