Toronto families living in Premier Doug Ford’s riding could be among those worst hit by provincial child care cuts announced in the April budget, according to a new city analysis of where the axe may fall.
A total of 6,166 fee subsidies are on the chopping block due to almost $178 million in cuts to Toronto, including $84.8 million being slashed from child care funding this year, city manager Chris Murray has said.
Ford’s Etobicoke North riding could lose as many as 455 subsidies — the second deepest cut in the city — at a time when 741 children are on the subsidy wait list, according to a ward-by-ward breakdown by children’s services staff, released Wednesday. (Since the Ford government halved the number of seats on city council last summer, city ward and provincial riding boundaries are the same.)
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who has decried the provincial cuts, said he spoke to a mother at a Scarborough daycare Tuesday who told him the loss of her subsidized spot would be devastating.
“She said she’d have to move out of the city because ‘We wouldn’t be able to support our mortgage,’ and that’s very much tied to her continued employment,” Tory told reporters at city hall Wednesday.
He wants that mom and others potentially affected by the cuts to sign the city’s new online petition, www.toronto.ca/stopthecuts, urging Ford and his 10 Toronto MPPs to reverse cuts to child care, public health, transit and more.
“I believe this petition will be an important opportunity for people like those moms to raise their voices,” and “hopefully bring to life” PC MPPs who have remained silent while Toronto is threatened, he said.
The petition follows letters to Ford’s Toronto caucus members, a speech in which Tory questioned Ford’s potentially costly campaign pledge to get beer and wine sold in corner stores and joint statements with other Ontario mayors also grappling with provincial funding claw-backs.
Among other PC ridings in the city facing deep child care cuts are Scarborough Centre with 357 subsidies at risk, and Scarborough-Agincourt with 268 in doubt. Those ridings, where a total of 1,288 children are waiting for subsidies, are held by Christina Mitas and Aris Babikian, respectively.
Willowridge Early Learning Centre in Ford’s riding was one of 40 centres across Ontario where child care advocates and local politicians staged a “Day of Action” to inform parents.
“Toronto has been out-front with its numbers but every community in the province is going to be affected,” said Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care. The coalition is urging parents to sign petitions and send messages to their MPPs as well as Education Minister Lisa Thompson and Ford.
“Nobody voted for this. They need to stop, listen to the community and reverse the cuts,” Ferns said.
Toronto Councillor Mike Layton, who joined Ferns and other advocates in Ford’s riding, said he was there “to make sure those families know what’s at stake, because I’m not convinced their MPP, or their city councillor (Ford’s nephew Michael Ford) is communicating to them.”
It’s not just the 13,300 Toronto children and their families waiting for fee subsidies who will suffer, Layton added.
“On average, full-fee parents will see a 4.7 per cent increase this year because of the changes,” he said. “This is going to hurt families of every income bracket.”
Toronto parents pay the highest child care fees in the country, topping $20,000 a year for infants, he noted.
A provincial education ministry memo to municipalities last month lists at least $80 million in cuts to licensed child care this year. But provincial policy changes will mean even deeper reductions, Toronto’s city manager has warned.
Ford has dismissed the city’s calculations as “fear mongering” and said Ontario is spending a record $2 billion this year on child care, including a new child care tax credit that will allow families to spend the money on licensed care as well as on summer camps and after-school recreation programs.
“We are simply challenging (Toronto) to reduce their administrative spending on child care delivery by 5 per cent and refocus that funding on things like subsidies for low-income families,” said Ford press secretary Ivana Yelich. “Any reductions in child care spaces or subsidies would be the result of the City of Toronto’s own decision making and poor fiscal management.”
The potential loss of more than 6,000 of the city’s 30,700 child care subsidies will be felt in every ward across the city, said Layton, who represents Ward 11, University Rosedale, where 85 subsidies are at risk and 187 children are on the wait list.
Subsidies, which help families with the cost of licensed child care, are allocated to wards based on their population of low- to moderate-income children. As a result, wards where the number of children in need are the greatest, have the most to lose, he said.
NDP child care critic Moly Begum, was at the Gilder Early Learning and Child Care Centre in PC MPP Christina Mitas’s Scarborough Centre riding Wednesday morning to speak to parents about the cuts.
“A lot of them are middle-class families that are already struggling to pay child care fees,” said Begum, whose neighbouring Scarborough Southwest riding could lose 373 subsidies. “They are really worried about so many other cuts that are happening, piling on top of each other.”
“I truly believe MPP in those (PC) ridings … got into politics because they want to help people,” she said. “Child care is so much more than just a space for children. We are talking about helping families, helping women go back to the workforce. I hope they are listening.”
With files from David Rider
Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb