Skip to main content
opinion

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, makes a child-care announcement with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in Edmonton on Nov. 15.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

It’s difficult to know precisely how hard Alberta Premier Jason Kenney bit his tongue before he agreed to hold a joint press conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to announce a federal-provincial deal for subsidized $10-a-day child care. But you can bet he didn’t find it easy.

In the end, Mr. Kenney decided to take the truckloads of cash Ottawa was proffering. And now Ontario’s Doug Ford will struggle to explain why he hasn’t taken the money.

But whatever the explanations, it will pale next to this prospect: Mr. Kenney said he will cut parents’ child-care fees by half in his province, starting in January. And Mr. Ford won’t be able to do the same – unless he makes a deal.

That political problem will raise the pressure as days pass.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney snipes at PM as province signs on to $10-day child-care deal

Ontario negotiating with Ottawa for more child-care money, flexibility, sustainability, Lecce says

Other premiers have rushed to take Ottawa’s billions. Ontario isn’t the only province holding out, because New Brunswick hasn’t done a deal yet, either, but eight have now signed up.

That now includes all three Prairie provinces, all with small-c conservative governments, and most notably Alberta, whose Mr. Kenney has been at loggerheads with Mr. Trudeau and who campaigned against subsidized child care when he was a federal Conservative politician.

On Monday, Mr. Kenney said in the end he couldn’t leave almost $4-billion ($3.8-billion over five years) on the table.

Ottawa, B.C. reach deal on child-care funding, Trudeau announces

Manitoba signs on to federal government’s $10-a-day child care plan

Saskatchewan signs up for federal government’s $10-a-day child care plan

Now Mr. Ford faces a similar question, but in his case it is about $10.2-billion. When other provinces start cutting fees, will the Ontario Premier keep refusing to take the money?

On Monday, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce was out telling reporters that Ottawa’s proposal would “shortchange” the province. But the feds have been saying Ontario hasn’t yet filed the paperwork.

There is a disagreement over process. The feds say they haven’t yet received an “action plan” from Ontario outlining the province’s proposal, so they haven’t been able to negotiate. Ontario insists it has sent enough details, but Ottawa said it received a two-page document before the election, rather than the 20- or 30-page document other provinces sent. At any rate, real negotiations between officials haven’t begun.

Mr. Lecce’s argument that Ontario needs more money includes a couple of good points and a couple of red herrings. But at this point, after eight other provinces have signed, making the case gets harder.

The other agreements essentially provide funding based on how many children live in each province, the same sum per child. The federal-provincial negotiations so far have been about how federal money will be spent and under what conditions. So after eight provinces agreed to take the same amount per child, Ontario is insisting on more.

There are some reasonable arguments Ontario can make to support that case. The province has relatively high average child-care costs, so reducing fees to $10 a day costs more than in, say, Nova Scotia.

But British Columbia, which signed the first $10-a-day child-care deal with Ottawa in July, also has high average child-care costs. So while Ontario insists the federal money would only be enough to bring fees down to $21 a day, B.C. decided it could make it work. Still, Ontario is not wrong that, at $10 a day, demand for the province’s relatively costly child care will increase, so the province is looking for assurances that the feds will keep up their end over the long term.

Yet some of the Ontario government’s claims for more cash seem so flimsy it is as though it is looking for obstacles to an agreement. Mr. Lecce argued that Ontario spends $3.6-billion a year on full-day kindergarten, suggesting the province should get extra funds because of it. Aside from some other provinces also having it, full-day kindergarten isn’t a reason to give Ontario extra money – it should lower the new, additional costs of subsidized child care, not increase them.

Still, all those things can be raised at a negotiating table. But Ontario is among the last to get there, and that will put Mr. Ford under pressure. Mr. Kenney, whose disdain for Mr. Trudeau’s federal Liberals is famous and whose dislike of subsidized child care is on record, just decided he had to take the money. Sure, Mr. Ford can argue $10.2-billion is not enough, but can he leave it on the table?

For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.