GTA

Mayor criticizes province for putting over 3,000 new child-care spaces in Toronto at risk

Mayor John Tory says the provincial government is moving in the “wrong direction” by not providing operational funding for more than 3,000 new child-care spaces in Toronto schools.

Tory said he will urge the government to reconsider its decision not to cover operating costs of 51 capital projects, which would have built new child-care centres in schools and opened a total of 3,049 child-care spaces. The projects, first proposed in November 2016, are no longer considered eligible for provincial operating funding.

The mayor said property taxes paid by Toronto residents were not designed to cover social programs now being affected by provincial cuts.

“Most people in the city cannot afford to pay significantly more for child care. People are paying a lot already. And people need child care. This is a service that is provided that allows people to work,” Tory told reporters on Tuesday at city hall before a council meeting.

“Property taxes, which are how we derive the majority of our revenue for the city of Toronto, were not meant to pay in whole for social programs like this.”

Tory promised that city officials will talk to their provincial counterparts about the decision, which he called a “step backward.”

“Our posture will be to take this up with the provincial government,” Tory said. “Clearly, this is going in the wrong direction.”

At a news conference later, child-care advocates and a few councillors called on the province to fund the child-care projects adequately so they can proceed.

Carolyn Ferns, policy co-ordinator for the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, said the projects were slated for areas where there is great need and the coalition is very concerned. When pregnant, Ferns was on 12 wait lists for child care.

“We know that there are huge wait lists for child care already. Parents are paying the equivalent of a second mortgage or second rent payment for child care. We really need to see these child-care projects go forward,” she said.

“The fact that this provincial funding cut puts these projects at risk is very troubling. There is a desperate need for child care in our city.”

Coun. Mike Layton told reporters that Ontario Premier Doug Ford needs to make a commitment to funding child care. Provincial funding cuts will hurt families across Toronto, he added.

“We are here to stand up against more Ford cuts to day care,” Layton said.

Provincial cuts affecting child-care projects, report says

According to a June 20 city staff report, the government announced new funding cuts to the city in a June 7 memo and these cuts directly affect school-based child-care capital projects.

“Given the current fiscal environment, including expected funding reductions and policy changes in 2020, and the fact that these 51 projects will not be started or completed until 2020 or later, Children’s Services is not able to commit to future operating funding for these 51 new projects,” the report reads.

An April 26 memo from the Ontario education ministry to municipalities said the city and school boards would have to cover operating costs of the new child-care centres, and if the city and school boards could not confirm the operating funding by August 30, the projects would not proceed.

The report recommends that the city ask the province for more time to confirm operating funding for the child-care centres.

Stan Cho, MPP for Willowdale and parliamentary assistant to Ontario’s finance minister, said the city needs to find savings in its budget to cover operating costs of the 51 projects. The province is willing to help the city locate those savings, he said.

Cho also acknowledged that operating funding for the projects was promised by the previous provincial government, but said the Liberals made “promises that they couldn’t keep” and that were not sustainable.

“They made some mention of providing additional funding for operational expenses, but there was not even a dollar figure attached to that. So it was very much a promise that was empty,” Cho said on Tuesday.

“I don’t see this at all as changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

Cho said the province is doing its part to help families in Toronto. “It’s good news. We are providing $87 million should the city decide to accept it toward opening 51 new child-care service centres in schools throughout the city of Toronto,” he said.

As for a request by the city for more time to confirm operating funding, Cho said the government has not yet received a formal request. “We are always open to discussion,” he added.

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