Ontario’s Liberal government says it plans to offer free child care for thousands of preschoolers across the province starting in 2020, a promise that comes as it faces a looming spring election.
Premier Kathleen Wynne, Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris unveiled the $2.2-billion dollar initiative on Tuesday at a school in Toronto.
The new program sees the government pledging to fund the cost of full-day, licensed child care starting once children turn two-and-a-half. The funding would cover their care costs until they become eligible for full-day kindergarten.
“No more anxiety about costs … The freedom to choose when it’s time for mom or dad to go back to work. This is a big change,” Wynne said. “We’re playing the long game here, folks. This is the investment in the people of this province.”
In Ontario, kids are eligible for junior kindergarten in the calendar year they turn four, and senior kindergarten the year they turn five. Wynne said the likely reception from critics will be similar to the reception that full-day kindergarten received when it was introduced, saying it’s unaffordable.
“It’s time to decide if we’ll keep going by making it more affordable to raise a child in Ontario and give every child the very best start or go backwards and cut programs that are making a real difference at a time when families need more support. That’s the choice that we’re facing right now.”
Wynne said the announcement, made the day before the government tables its final budget ahead of the June election, is estimated to save families $17,000 a year.
The government said the free child-care program was developed after consultations with parents and educators and on the advice of economist Gordon Cleveland.
Tuesday’s announcement is the latest in a series of high-profile and big-ticket initiatives unveiled in the days leading up to the provincial budget.
The government pledged millions to expand its OHIP Plus pharma-care program which currently covers drug costs for youth and will eventually extend to seniors as well. The province has also committed to extensive new funding for hospitals and mental health supports.
The election is currently set for June 7.