Ottawa touts wait lists for dysfunctional child-care program

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Appeared in the Financial Post, April 11, 2024
Ottawa touts wait lists for dysfunctional child-care program

Ahead of its April 16 budget release, the Trudeau government effectively admitted its national child-care program, which it began implementing in 2021, has created widespread shortages. “We’re seeing wait lists increase across the country,” said Jenna Sudds, federal minister in charge of child care.

The government has tried to cast the shortages as the result of skyrocketing demand for a popular federal program. But when government makes billions of dollars in subsidies available, of course there will be massive demand among people wanting to get their hands on the cash. That doesn’t mean the program is a success; it means the government is wrecking a market by throwing supply and demand out of whack.

Vancouver has a shortfall of about 15,000 child-care spaces for children up to age 12. In Niagara Region, the wait list for toddlers and preschoolers has expanded by 227 per cent in just the past two years. Clearly, the child-care sector has been thrown into disorder.

But if shortages illustrate a government program’s benefits, then the average 44-week wait time to get orthopedic surgery in Canada is evidence of the success of government health care. Our health-care system must be great—look how many people are lining up for it!

To try to mitigate the shortages, the Trudeau government announced $1 billion in low-interest loans and $60 million in non-repayable grants to expand and renovate child-care spaces. Additional money will be spent in the form of student loan forgiveness and training for workers in the sector. Both the shortages and new spending confirm what skeptics of national government daycare predicted from the outset—the original budget of $30 billion over five years, then $9.2 billion annually after that, underestimated what taxpayers would eventually shell out.

The new spending also exacerbates two government-created problems in child care. The first is that the $1 billion in loans and $60 million in grants are available only to public and non-profit providers. So excluded from the program are parents who want to take care of children at home, children who are cared for by grandparents or other relatives, and private for-profit providers. Instead of getting child-care help, they’ll foot the tax bill to pay for the government-preferred forms of child care.

The discrimination against private for-profit providers is a clear problem with the existing federal child-care strategy. “Frankly, Canada’s national daycare system excludes many more Canadians than it includes,” Cardus researcher Andrea Mrozek wrote last year. In Nova Scotia, where the federal government wants to move “to a fully not-for-profit and publicly managed system,” even provincial Liberal Leader Zach Churchill has lamented the exclusion of the private sector.

The second problem made worse is the spending is done increasingly through different streams and programs, diverting money towards administrative and bureaucratic bloat instead of actual child care. Based on a municipal memo back in 2022, it’s already estimated Peel Region in Ontario needs 40 additional bureaucrats to deal with child care. In British Columbia, the City of Cranbrook recently issued a 26-page request for proposals for consultants to prepare grant applications to the provincial government for child-care funds.

The ever-increasing government budget for child care, apparently, is great for the government sector and consultants hired to help move government money around. It’s a disaster, however, for parents who cannot find child care and taxpayers who pay billions for shortages—a reality unchanged by the Trudeau government’s latest announcement.

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