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After a private meeting with for-profit daycare lobbyists, the Ontario Ford government decided to attack affordable daycare. This has taken the form of scrapping affordability guidelines coming into effect in 2023. Millions of parents across Canada desperately need affordable child care. However, profit-driven daycare owners and politicians like Doug Ford cannot be trusted to implement genuinely affordable child care. 

Capitalists campaign against affordable daycare

Following the announcement of the $10-a-day daycare program last year, for-profit daycares came together to form the Ontario Association of Independent Childcare Centres (OAICC). Over the last several months, the OAICC has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire a public relations firm, launch a public campaign, and publish a website to advocate against affordable daycare. 

Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s education minister, met privately with for-profit daycare executives from OAICC this past September (this happened at the same time that he was refusing to meet with education workers). At the meeting, OAICC director Maggie Moser called $10-a-day daycare “predatory”. Never mind that for-profit daycares have preyed on the desperation of parents by charging unreasonably high fees while paying low wages to child-care workers to make their profits! She went on to state that “limits on undue profits and the list of ineligible expenses were the most offensive parts of the original funding guidelines.” Ineligible expenses include daycare fees used to fund executive bonuses and mortgages. It is not surprising that profit-driven daycare owners would be offended by a challenge to their profits and privileges. For these owners, the needs of parents, children and child-care workers all come second to the need for profit. To more effectively assert their interests, the OAICC has threatened capital flight. 

The threat of capital flight 

Moser said that “if the government hasn’t allocated enough money to treat business owners fairly, then they made the wrong plan”. For these capitalists, being treated “fairly” means unimpeded profiteering. There are only two possible ways for this to happen. Either the current high daycare fees are left untouched, or the government subsidizes these owners to make up for the profits lost from lower fees. Either way, it is the working class who pays. They will either pay directly through high fees, or indirectly via the taxes used to subsidize for-profit daycares. 

Sharon Siriboe, another director at OAICC, went further and gave this warning: “[Our] position is that if you are not willing to bend, we’re willing to walk with our spaces and you need the spaces.” This is effectively a threat to sabotage vitally necessary child-care services unless profits are protected. It clearly exposes the antagonism between profit and social needs. For parents to access affordable child care, the high fees from for-profit daycares must be challenged. However, while these daycares remain under the ownership of capitalists, they clearly will not allow any challenge to their profits. 

A minister at this private meeting responded to the complaints and threats by giving the assurance that “we don’t want to limit your profit.” Since the meeting, Lecce announced the restrictions on profit and ineligible expenses will be scrapped from the program. It is not at all surprising that the Ford government has taken the side of the capitalists. During the pandemic, when frontline workers such as teachers and nurses were struggling to keep society running, the Ford government cut funding to health care and education. Instead, they gave legal and financial protection to private long-term care homes, where thousands of seniors died due to inadequate staffing and supplies. The Conservative government has always put profits ahead of social needs.

Daycare system in decay 

Daycare costs have skyrocketed during the pandemic, averaging between $800 to almost $2,000 a month! A two-income household spends on average one-third of their income on child-care fees, representing some of the highest child-care fees globally among OECD countries. Ontario has the most expensive daycare in Canada, with Toronto and the GTA topping the charts. Much of these costs are based upon fees from for-profit daycares. In fact, for-profit daycares charge on average 25 per cent more than non-profit centres. Since for-profits make up a significant portion of daycare services, this leaves parents with little to no affordable alternatives. The situation is made worse by the severe lack of daycare services. 

Nationally, there are not even enough daycare centres to cover 27 percent of daycare-age children. This has resulted in massive waitlists, which often forces parents to sign up many months before their child is even born. For-profit daycares have profited off desperate parents by charging fees to join waitlists, ranging from $50 to $200 per month. This also demonstrates how for-profit daycares will take every opportunity to parasitically leech off of working class families. For those parents that do manage to secure a spot, they are unlikely to find good-quality daycare. 

This is fundamentally related to staff-child ratios. Experts recommend a ratio of no greater than one staff person for every four infants/toddlers to ensure proper care and supervision. The Ford government recently reduced the allowable ratio to one staff person for every eight children. Staff shortages are further aggravated by the low wages for child-care workers. The Childcare Resource and Research Unit reported the median annual wage for a Canadian child-care worker in 2015 as $34,192, hardly above minimum wage. With child care being run for profit, there is no incentive to spend money on adequate staffing, and every reason to cut corners, reducing both quality and supply.

The short supply of daycare services has fueled the rise of unlicensed daycares. There are few regulations or inspections of unlicensed daycares, which often operate out of someone’s personal home. Due to the lack of accountability, these facilities are often overcrowded and under the supervision of only one adult (who is typically not trained or educated in child care). Over the past decade, there have been dozens of cases of abuse, neglect, and deaths of children in these unlicensed facilities. The current state of daycare in Ontario is disastrous, and by catering to the interests of for-profit providers, the Ford government is ensuring that this state of affairs will continue.

Affordable child care requires workers’ control 

The aggressive response from for-profit daycares highlights that they cannot be simply regulated into providing affordable child care. Their threat to shut down daycare centers provides an important lesson: we cannot plan what we do not control, and we cannot control what we do not own. So long as the ownership of daycare facilities remains in the hands of the capitalists, they dictate what child care looks like. As Maggie Moser from OAICC stated, “The goal of business is to make money, everybody knows that and daycare is a business”. The drive for profit undermines the social need for good quality, affordable childcare. The only way to implement affordable child care is to take the ownership of all daycare facilities into public hands and operate them under workers’ control. Only then would we be able to plan daycare services according to social need. 

For genuinely affordable and accessible child care, there needs to be a massive investment into increasing the amount and quality of daycare facilities. This requires a mass hiring campaign of child-care workers and providing living wages to ensure qualified workers are retained. The wealth to fund these necessities exists. There is currently $1.5 trillion in dead money in Canada; this is money that lies dormant, uninvested, unproductive and hoarded in the banks. Affordable daycare could be one of the many productive uses for this wealth. This requires fighting for a radically different society where social needs are put ahead of profit.