A Crisis Not Of Our Making

February 16, 2010

Earlier this year city of Toronto officials announced that if more child-care money wasn’t forthcoming from senior levels of government the city would have to close some 5 000 subsidized spaces over the next two years. As the budget process kicks into high gear this month, we will be hearing a lot of such talk: monetary shortfalls and program/service cuts. That will be followed by the inevitable calls for restraint and the getting of the fiscal house in order, especially with it being an election year.

I think it a good opportunity, however, to point out the way in which this exemplifies the off-kilter political dynamic at work and how municipalities as the street level, day-to-day providers of such things like day-care work at a disadvantage while facing the brunt of the public’s displeasure with decisions that are not, ultimately, made at a local level.

Upon coming to power four years ago, the federal Conservatives led by Stephen Harper rolled back the five billion dollar national child-care plan that the previous Liberal government had proposed, and replaced it with a more modest, shall we say, approach. Part of this new day-care tack on the Conservative government’s part was a one time grant to the provinces, totaling just over $250 million for Ontario. In turn, the Ontario government split that amount into four $63.5 million annual payments to municipalities; payments that run out on April 1st. Already the provincial government has had to pay out an additional $18 million to avoid disruptions during the current school term.

The second key decision in the equation was last fall’s announcement by Queen’s Park that it was going to fund full time kindergarden for the province’s 4 and 5 year-olds. In and of itself, this plan would seem to be unrelated to the day-care cash crunch. However, the removal of older children from day-care, in fact, makes day-care services more expensive because older children, in needing less hands-on attention, are less costly units. In their absence, it will require more money to provide and run day-care centres, therefore making day-care more expensive.

So, what you have is a day-care crisis in the making precipitated by decisions made by the two levels of senior government who do not provide the services. This is your asymmetrical, inverted democracy at work. Individual Canadians, 80% of whom live in urban municipalities, hand over the majority of their taxes to senior levels of government in the form of income and sales taxes. These levels of government then divvy up their expenditures based on whim and political necessity which, oftentimes, are diametrically opposed to the needs of individual Canadians.

This structure represents the height of inefficient governance and lies at the root of much of our municipalities’ money woes. Too much of our taxes go to where it is least needed and is doled out in an ad hoc, politically motivated manner. Yet, it is a situation that largely goes unremarked upon during the course of election campaigns. Rather than pointing fingers at each other, screaming waste, fat, inefficiency, municipal candidates should be aiming their fire at those who are truly responsible up on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and in the country’s provincial legislatures.

Thank you for reading.

submitted by Acaphlegmic