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Ontario's work force strategy calls for a minimum wage for registered early childhood educators of $23.84 per hour, up from $20 an hour.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Ontario says it will bring in a higher wage floor for early childhood educators to draw workers to the sector, but critics say it is not enough to solve the shortage that is threatening the success of the $10-a-day childcare program.

The new minimum wage, to take effect next year, will make registered early childhood educators in Ontario among the four highest paid across the country. The province says three-quarters of ECEs currently working in centres that are part of the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care agreement will benefit from the wage bump.

“It’s another demonstration by our government that we’re committed to the work force and we’re committed to keeping fees low,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Thursday as he outlined the new work force strategy.

Since the federal government announced the childcare agreement in 2021, advocates have warned that addressing work force issues, especially low pay, is key to the success of the plan, which aims to reduce fees to an average of $10 a day by 2026 and greatly expand the sector.

Under the plan, Ontario is expected to create 86,000 new spaces by 2026. The province’s work force strategy calls for a minimum wage for registered early childhood educators of $23.84 per hour, up from $20 an hour, but that is well below what workers in the sector have been calling for, says Teresa Armstrong, the NDP child care critic.

“The childcare program is in crisis if we don’t have wages meet the needs of workers. They’ve asked for RECEs to be $30 per hour and all other childcare workers to be $25 per hour,” she said. “This announcement is an acknowledgement that salaries are an issue but it does fall short of what workers have been asking for.”

Many child care centres across Ontario are struggling to recruit and retain qualified staff.

For example, the YMCA of Greater Toronto currently has 35,000 licensed spaces, but only 18,766 children enrolled in care.

“The major driver of those spaces being empty remains human resources,” said Jamison Steeve, the organization’s chief strategy officer.

Still, Mr. Steeve called Thursday’s announcement a “good first step.”

“It’s a good signal for child care providers that they’re being valued at least,” he said.

Approximately 92 per cent of child care centres in Ontario have signed on to CWELCC. Their fees have been cut by 50 per cent, likely increasing demand for child care across the province.

Under the new plan, the minimum wage will rise by $1 per hour each year, up to $25.86 by 2026.

The wage ceiling is also set to increase, with early childhood educators making $26 an hour or less now set to qualify for an increase of $1 per hour each year, up to $28 an hour by 2026.

The work force strategy will also include a promotional campaign to help draw people to the profession, funding to establish a dedicated professional development day and increased funding for a program to help non-ECE childcare staff earn an ECE diploma.

One of the main goals of the federal plan is to help increase female labour participation, and the child care work force strategy is a key to achieving that goal, Mr. Lecce said.

“Enabling more women in the economy is a good thing for our country, for our democracy and society. And this is part of our plan to do just that,” he said.

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