Canada and Ontario officials will meet next week to hammer out a deal on a daycare system, with Ottawa playing hardball in talks over funding.
The federal and provincial negotiators will meet for the first time since June 20th, when the Ontario minister of finance, Vic Fedeli, said Ottawa was a red flag when it came to a centre-left government not footing the bill.
According to several sources, the issues of financing will dominate discussions and the proposed costs of the Conservative Ontario government’s current funding models could completely reshape the daycare system.
An official with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, the federal pension institution, told the Guardian the Ontario government was eager to sell their parents on the idea that someone else should be paying for daycare for them.
“They want to save some money through direct-funding [through federal money], instead of going to parents,” he said.
Any version of the daycare system would do away with some of the more controversial elements in the current deal, including the free daycare offered to parents on the weekends.
“The news came a little bit out of the blue,” a source said. “We don’t even know yet [where the discussion on funding will go]. Everyone’s just waiting to see what comes out next.”
One person who was outside the room during the funding talks told the Guardian the officials were dealing with Ottawa that said they had been incensed by the Ontario government telling them they didn’t have enough money.
“Ottawa is like, ‘We can’t afford to pay you. You are not paying enough, you don’t pay enough,’” the source said.
“The daycare thing has been very persistent, but I think it may happen one way or another,” another source said.
The Ontario government does not appear eager to have funding come with strings attached. One source told the Guardian the parties were at an impasse and Canada “was going to hold them to ransom over this”.
The reports come as Ontario’s public daycare crisis worsens.
Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government ended paid childcare for parents who brought their children to school on Saturdays in early June.
Parents were told the new fees would go up because of inflation in the region, but were allowed to recoup lost costs through transit payments, but the Ontario capital’s transit provider decided last week not to grant those transit payments.
Ford’s government announced a week ago it would end free programs for all working parents with children between birth and five, and any parents who want a centre-based daycare experience have until 1 September to sign up for one.
The province’s public daycare costs about $6bn, or less than 1% of the province’s budget.
At a family council meeting last week, numerous parents expressed dismay at the government’s decision. Victoria Tarbuck, the National President of Ontario’s CTU (CWA), the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said parents and childcare workers in Ontario “are feeling numb”.
“It feels like this cut to our families just wasn’t foreseen,” she said. “There isn’t one person that I’ve spoken to who hasn’t been crying or mad that their pay is going down. It’s probably the most emotional daycare issue that I’ve ever heard about.
“How do they feel if they are five years old and there is just no childcare for them?”
The Guardian has not been able to contact the Ontario labour minister or the federal labour minister to confirm whether or not the federal party officials will meet.