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Universal childcare not so universal according to Ontario government

The national daycare program was promised by the Liberal government to provide affordable childcare for all families, but the Ontario government says it was never set up that way.

“The federal government has made a requirement of the provinces to focus their growth on underrepresented groups that have historically low number of spaces relative to their population, so we are prioritizing our growth,” said education minister Stephen Lecce.

Which means, unlike the first year of the program, not all centres who want to opt-in can do so.

According to a letter from the City of Ottawa obtained by CTV News, some daycare providers are being told they cannot opt-in as the province prioritizes spaces for Indigenous, low-income and diverse communities.

“With the province’s directed growth strategy, 1 in 3 children across the province will get access to CWELCC-funded child care. While many in the community will want to see more of a universal approach to growth as opposed to 1 space for every 3 children, Ottawa’s CWELCC-funded child care growth must occur in accordance with the Provincial Access and Inclusion Framework and funding allocations,” the letter read.

At the same time, the Ontario Association of Independent Child Care Centres says many providers who have opted in are barely hanging on, crumbling under the financial pressure, and are unable to raise fees that are frozen at 2022 levels.

“We were under the impression, if not told directly, that it was meant to be a universal program across Canada. The government keeps insisting that they are funding childcare centres. They are not funding childcare centres they’re actually defunding us,” said director, Maggie Moser.

With fewer centres able to opt-in, it means waitlists are ballooning across the province.

“We have 800 names plus on our wait list,” said Natalie Orellana, owner of Toronto’s Munchkin Manor. “If you’re number 800 on our waiting list, chances are you’re not getting a spot and chances are your child will age out of the child care system.”

But in order to create more spots, the province says it needs more money from the federal government.

“Space creation is my top priority now. We’ve got to get on with building more spaces to make it more accessible and that’s why we’re appealing to the federal government. We need the feds to invest,” said Lecce.

CTV News reached out to the federal government with questions as it relations to its universal promise but was told, “Design and the delivery of early learning child care programs and services is a matter of provincial jurisdiction, questions specific to their implementation should be directed to the Government of Ontario.”

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