Montreal, June 6, 2017 – With the Ontario government releasing a five-year action plan to move the province toward a universally accessible child care system, the MEI warns that Quebec’s child care system is flawed and should not be copied.
While it is true that a number of families in Toronto can’t afford licensed child care, the government should direct any additional money into the hands of parents, through cash transfers, vouchers, or tax rebates, rather than use it for government-subsidized child care centres.
The Quebec government made this mistake 20 years ago when it decided to subsidize child care services instead of helping parents directly. Parents and taxpayers are still paying the price through rising costs, waiting lists, and union strikes.
“The very definition of a universal system is access for all. Yet in Quebec, parents still languish on waiting lists,” says Germain Belzile, Senior Associate Researcher at the MEI.
The Quebec program’s annual costs went from some $300 million in 1997-1998, to $2.6 billion in 2014-2015, a 767 per cent leap. This far exceeds the increase in the number of places provided, which did not even triple. Even adjusting for inflation, the cost per child has more than doubled. Unionization of home-based child care workers alone was estimated in 2008 to cost the Quebec government more than $1 billion.
“This cost might be justified if the system were to the benefit of disadvantaged children, but that is not the case,” says Vincent Geloso, Associate Researcher at the MEI. “It is mostly wealthier families who get spaces in the province’s Early Childhood Centres.”
What’s more, the exact same results could have been achieved by giving the money directly to mothers, so that they could put their children in private child care centres, which are still subject to governmental quality standards.
“As the saying goes, ‘If you think child care is expensive now, wait until it’s free’,” quips Vincent Geloso. Moreover, the oft-touted benefits regarding female labour participation, or access for and academic performance of disadvantaged children, have in many cases failed to materialize.
Ontario should heed Quebec’s lessons before going any further down this road if it wants to save its taxpayers billions of dollars. Parents should be the recipients of any additional funding, and be allowed to select the child care centre of their choice, paying fair market price.
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The Montreal Economic Institute is an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit research and educational organization. Through its studies and its conferences, the MEI stimulates debate on public policies in Quebec and across Canada by proposing wealth-creating reforms based on market mechanisms.
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