Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children


Leaders in Ontario, Canada’s second-largest province, are talking a giant step forward: calling for a $2.2 billion plan to create full-day, fully licensed child care for “preschool children from the age of two-and-a-half until they are eligible to start kindergarten, beginning in 2020.”

Families would save some $17,000 per child.

“We listened to parents, educators and child care providers across the province, and they’ve told us this move is the right one to make,” Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario said. “This investment will make life more affordable for families and allow more parents to make the choice to go back to work, knowing their child is safe and cared for.”

Currently in Ontario, “kids are eligible for junior kindergarten in the calendar year they turn four, and senior kindergarten the year they turn five,” the news magazine Maclean’s reports, adding:

“The government estimates that by the time the system is fully implemented in 2023-2024, an additional 125,000 children will be able to enroll in the free daycare program.”

Other Canadian provinces are taking different funding approaches. According to NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research), “Quebec relies on household income to determine the amount of daycare support a family receives and British Columbia plans to do the same, with a 10-year plan moving toward universal coverage.”

Specific aspects of Ontario’s plan include:

• investing “ $90 million in 2018-19 to support continued expansion of child care for children ages 0 to 4 years”

• eliminating waitlists for subsidized child care

• introducing a “wage grid” to ensure that staff working in early education and care earn salaries that are “more closely aligned” with the earnings of full-day kindergarten teachers, and

• creating a $30 million innovation fund to solve chronic problems such as extending child care hours to “ease anxiety and stress for parents who work long hours, shifts or are in precarious work situations”

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Susan Prentice, a sociology professor at the University of Manitoba, says this child care plan will change the social and political conversation.

“Economists in Quebec have shown that public spending has generated fiscal and social windfalls: maternal employment grew; birth rates rose; and child- and family-poverty rates fell by more than half. The ripple effects of new taxes and reduced social spending mean the child-care program more than pays for itself.”

Prentice adds: “Additionally, women’s economic and social choices expand with real child-care options. This is a valuable policy outcome even aside from positive government balance sheets.”

The plan does have critics. Among their complaints: Wynne’s plan doesn’t go far enough. They’d like to see a program that covers children who are younger than two-and-a-half to create an option for moms who want to go back to work after their parental leave ends.

Keep an eye on Ontario. It will be fascinating to see how the province moves forward with its plans. As Prentice notes:

“If the Ontario government can offer free childcare to preschoolers, why should parents anywhere in Canada expect anything less? The announcement puts all provincial governments on notice that childcare is a public good.”

No doubt, governments in the United States and elsewhere will also be paying attention.