Photo By: Rashid Sadykov from Unsplash

Election campaigns are when political parties like to make a lot of promises. While they tend to be pretty generous when no actual money is on the table, if a party actually goes on to form government, their tune tends to change.

Take national child care for example. Some form of a national child care plan has been promised by Conservatives and (mostly) Liberal governments since the 1980s. Yet, we are still without such a plan.

However, we are closer today than ever before, as the newly re-elected Trudeau government has been working aggressively to strike funding agreements with the provinces and territories for a shared cost program that would see child care costs reduced to (on average) $10 per day. As of right now, New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Ontario are the only provinces and territories that have not struck an agreement with the federal government.

There’s a lot of pressure on Doug Ford to sign on the dotted line and get this child care funding from Ottawa flowing. Ford’s also certainly under pressure himself to get it done, as the provincial election comes closer and closer. Clearly it would be in his interest to have secured such a massive funding commitment from Ottawa before Ontarians head back to the polls.

While there have been a lot of partisan critiques coming out about Ford’s seemingly slow movement on this front, I can’t say I blame the guy for holding out for more money. He’s stated publicly that the reason they aren’t signing anything yet is because the funding is only guaranteed for five years, it has a lot of strings attached, and it simply will not be enough to bring childcare down to $10 a day for most people in Ontario.

While I do agree that they should hold out either for a longer funding commitment or at least more money over five years, the way he and his government have been talking about the federal child care funding does raise a few red flags for me though.

The biggest flag is what exactly Doug Ford thinks child care is. When speaking to the media  about this funding, he and Lecce have been talking a whole lot about getting funding for full day kindergarten, which definitionally is not child care. 

While I have no issue with them looking to get funding for full day kindergarten from Ottawa, it’s important to consider the fact that they are also talking about holding out until the “strings” attached to the funding are removed. So putting two and two together, it seems very possible that Ford is simply looking for free money that he can put towards full day kindergarten, ultimately undercutting the whole purpose of this child care funding.

I know what some of you may be thinking, while it may be easy to reach the conclusion I did, it’s not exactly fair, as they haven’t explicitly said that this is what they’ll do. That’s true, but there is certainly precedent from the Ford government for doing similar things in different sectors.

Take post secondary funding for example. While the federal government increased the Canada Student Grant in response to the pandemic by $400 million, in a move that was supposed to increase support received by students who rely on funding assistance programs like OSAP to attend post secondary, the Ford government simply cut Ontario’s contribution by the same amount. So in the end, while students in other provinces saw an increase in the funding they received to pay for college and university this last year, most students in Ontario saw no change. 

This is exactly why I’m concerned about what it is the Ford government is looking to get out of these hardball negotiations. It’s one thing to be looking for more money, but getting rid of the “strings” attached would give Ford too much room to potentially undermine this whole program, hurting Ontario families in the process.

While it feels like a lifetime ago now, Ford was elected as a fiscal hawk back in 2018. Up until the pandemic hit, he was on a cost cutting rampage in all sectors, and people were furious. There were the initial OSAP funding cuts that they made back in 2019, the cuts they made to OHIP+ in 2018, the massive changes they made to the autism treatment funding program, and so many more. 

So even though he’s come off perhaps a bit more sympathetic during the last 18 months, with the end of the pandemic on the horizon I don’t think it’s unfair to assume that Ford will be back to his old ways of slashing government spending left and right in due time. Say, after June 2022? 

Indeed, the election is certainly playing a role in how they approach these negotiations. In a perfect world, I think they would hope to strike their perfect deal sometime early next year, only so that they can keep their plans ambiguous for how they want to spend their “no strings attached” funding until after the 2022 election. If there were to be a perfect time for them to redirect childcare funding towards full day kindergarten instead of actually paying for child care, that would be it.