Feb 9. 2017

Toronto city council will vote through its budget next week, and one issue that is sure to get some attention in council chambers is the amount of money the city will spend to support child care in Toronto.

For city councillors who are also longtime vocal advocates of public child care, the context and climate of activism and engagement in Toronto over the past couple of weeks may have helped their cause (or at least the optics of it to certain engaged residents). Although public discussions about the city’s budget have been occurring in committees and town halls over the past few months, the final meetings may have gathered some of the steam from the fallout of Trump’s inauguration.

City councillors who rallied in Nathan Phillips Square as part of the Women’s March in January were able to neatly tie a “think global, act local” approach to this year’s city’s budget, calling for a gender equity framework for budgeting the city’s books.

Days later, at the city’s final budget committee meeting on January 24, familiar advocacy from Councillor Janet Davis had a new context. “Child care is fundamental to women achieving equality, and we have been saying this for many years,” Davis told reporters.

“We must spend more, we have to commit more. We have to call on federal and provincial governments who should be partners as they have in the past so we can expand affordable child-care options in the City of Toronto,” Davis said, adding she hoped the mayor would take up the cause and be a “voice from the City of Toronto in those intergovernmental talks.” At that time, the proposed budget would cut out the occupancy grants the city had traditionally given school boards to help fund certain child-care operators.

In the end, Davis’s request was heard loud and clearly by Mayor John Tory, who made an announcement this past Monday that he will advocate for the grants to continue, as well as an additional 300 subsidies.

Tory also publicly stated his appreciation of Davis two days in row. “I, for one, am prepared to acknowledge that I listen to my council colleagues, including someone who’s been a steadfast advocate on this, like Janet Davis,” Tory said to reporters before the Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday morning.

For now, the cost of subsidizing child care will continue to come from a combination of the city and the province. There are 674 centres across the city that accommodate child-care subsidies, and approximately 322 do not. The grant that the city pays to the school board covers all but 48 centres that operate in schools that are not covered. They spend somewhere around $16,000 per classroom, at a rate that is almost double that of those that benefit from the subsidy.

However, Tory did send a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne on Sunday saying a provincial increase of subsidies and base funding of child care is need.

Wynne has not publicly responded to the letter, but the provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath did. Horwath stopped by city hall to meet with Mayor Tory Thursday.  When asked how much she would offer the city on child care, she referenced an opinion piece she wrote for The Toronto Star, saying $50 million is needed. On the importance of child care, Horwath ended on an advocacy note. “[Women’s] labour force participation is underutilized because they can’t get the child care that they need to rejoin the labour force at a time when they want to, and that’s seriously problematic.”

Toronto City Council will vote on the budget next week. Councillor Jaye Robinson passed a motion at Executive Committee requesting the city look at overlapping services provided by the city and province. “I’m constantly hearing about the Day Care Act,” Robinson said, referring to Ontario’s Child Care and Early Years Act, when introducing her motion. “Once the regulations started rolling out, there’s a lot of daycare providers that feel like there’s duplication and I think we need to get to the bottom of it once and for all.”