Ontario’s not-so modern child care legislation

By MPP Toby Barrett

As a recent grandfather, the safety of children and society’s most vulnerable, remains of utmost importance. Just before the Ontario Legislature broke for Christmas, a host of legislation was rammed through, including Bill 10, the so-called Child Care Modernization Act.

This childcare law has been met with a great deal of criticism – criticism that arose well before the bill was fast-tracked through the House. Despite demands government undertake fulsome consultation, they refused any interruption or action that would delay the passage of Bill 10.

The moment of epiphany came when we learned of Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s report on licensed childcare which reads more like a horror than a fairytale.
Alarmingly, her report exposes more than 29,000 serious occurrences at licensed child care operators and private home daycare agencies from January 2009 to the end of May 2013. These incidents include injuries, abuse, fires or missing children, as well as physical or safety threats on the premises. And Education Minister Liz Sandals had full knowledge of the report’s contents before the passage of the bill.
Despite knowing this, Sandals, during debate, consistently defended lifting restrictions on licensed childcare while imposing new ones on legal, unlicensed operators.

Further, Minister Sandals accused Independent Childcare Providers (ICP) of being one and the same as illegal providers. She portrayed ICPs as substandard and argued they were in need of immediate reform to keep Ontario’s children safe.

The Coalition of Independent Childcare Providers of Ontario (CICPO) counters the exact opposite is true and that legal, unlicensed home childcare has a much better safety record than that of the licensed industry.

Despite higher numbers of incidents, Auditor General Lysyk reported inspections of licensed daycares aren’t being conducted on a regular basis and more than 80 per cent of high-risk centers were not inspected until after licenses had expired. Further, over the past five years, the ministry had not fully inspected one-third of child care operators before their licenses expired.

My office often receives calls from constituents waiting on police background checks – needed to volunteer at their child’s(ren) school, attend a class trip or to coach a sports team and yet Lysyk’s audit discovered among new daycare operators, there were criminal record checks on file for just 50 per cent of staff. These are people with direct access to small children every single day.

Bill 10 loosens ratio restrictions for licensed daycares, allowing more children to be cared for by a single provider than before. However, ratios on the ICPs have tightened, already forcing many to close their doors. CICPO reports over 500 spaces have already been lost. The other side of it is this new legislation has the possibility of driving childcare providers underground to avoid the impact it will have on their business and income. When underground, the government has zero oversight as we’ve seen in other instances like tobacco or home renovation.

Bill 10 does nothing to protect children, but will reduce services, reduce choice for parents and will end up costing more for fewer children, by reducing child care spots in Ontario by 140,000 spaces. It makes for great headlines and sound bites but does little to modernize a system in need of reform.

Since this government’s inception, we’ve time and again witnessed legislation that makes for great headlines and sound bites but the devil truly lies in the details.