MONTREAL — The federal government will transfer about $6 billion to Quebec over five years in connection with Ottawa's national child-care program, but the money comes without conditions and Quebec's government can spend it how it pleases.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement Thursday alongside Premier François Legault in Montreal, who said his government will use the money to ensure there are enough spaces in the province's subsidized daycare network and to increase salaries for early child educators.
However, Legault told reporters that not all of the money, which comes "without conditions," will be used to increase funding for the province's daycare system.
"Quebec already invests $2.7 billion a year, which isn’t the case in other provinces," Legault said. "There is a portion that will be used to reimburse expenses that have already been incurred. There is a portion that, as promised, will be used to complete the network and to increase the salaries of educators."
Legault said the government estimates that 37,000 additional spaces are needed in the public daycare system, adding that he believes daycare workers are underpaid.
Parents pay $8.50 a day per child in the province's public daycare system.
Legault said Ottawa and Quebec "also have a deal that says after the year 2026, (Ottawa) will continue to help finance (the network)."
Nancy Gélinas, the vice-president of the Fédération des intervenantes en petite enfance du Québec, a union that represents around 13,000 workers in public and home-based daycares, said she's pleased to see the federal government putting more money into Quebec's system, but she's concerned about the lack of strings attached.
"Mr. Legault repeated several times that there are no conditions attached to this federal money, so that's what worries us. What proportion of the $6 billion over five years will be used for (public daycare)?" she asked in an interview Thursday.
The union also believes the shortage of spaces in the public system is worse than the government suggests. Gélinas said there are 75,000 children on waiting lists for subsidized daycare. She added that the government and union are far apart on salary increases; the union wants increases of between 21 and 27 per cent over three years, while the government is offering 12 per cent.
Trudeau has been travelling the country in recent weeks, announcing hundreds of millions of dollars in agreements with provinces to create a national child-care system.
The prime minister said Thursday his government's national plan was inspired by Quebec's child-care network and that it can give Quebec the money without strings attached because Quebec's system has already achieved the federal government's goals.
Canada has already signed child-care deals with British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Yukon, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador — ahead of what reports say could be an end-of-summer federal election campaign. Trudeau said the various agreements with provinces outside Quebec will allow them to create $10-dollar-a-day child care places in a few years and raise wages for educators.
Asked about the state of negotiations with Ontario, Trudeau said the federal government is "unflinching" in its expectation that the average price be $10 a day within five years and that costs to parents be cut in half within one year, adding that increased wages for educators is "a sticking point for some."
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce recently met Ahmed Hussen, the federal minister of families, children and social development, according to the Ontario government, and discussions continue.
"While we welcome increased support for child care, until this year, the federal government only contributed 2.5 per cent to Ontario’s program," Caitlin Clark, a spokeswoman for Lecce, said in an email Thursday. "Ontario needs long-term financial support that is flexible to respond to the unique needs of every parent, not a one-size-fits-all approach."
Amy O’Neil, the director of Treetop Children’s Centre in Toronto, said that despite a decline in enrolment, her daycare needs extra staff due to COVID-19 protocols, and she's worried about paying those workers once the federal emergency wage subsidy ends.
O’Neil said she hasn't heard anything from the provincial government about a deal. “My fear is that without a commitment regarding the federal child care agreement, where’s the money going to come from to keep us afloat if we have to continue to do all of these things?" she said in an interview Thursday. "We never can get any clear answers because we’re not involved in the process.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2021.
With files from Allison Jones in Toronto
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press