SSMU Daycare (Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)

Commentary: Time-out for Quebec’s universal daycare fee?

a/Opinion by

Québec is known for its astounding art, delectable poutine, and, for some people, daycare with an affordable standard fee of $7 a day. However, the possibility looms that the province may be giving up one of these things in the near future. Earlier this month, the government’s proposal to scrap the universal rate of daycares in favour of a sliding-scale fee based on parental income caused public outrage.

The current system is not without its supporters. Since the universal fee’s introduction in 1997, there has been a huge boost in the number of working women in Quebec. It is estimated that around 70,000 women started working from 2008 to 2012, thanks to help from affordable childcare. However, the Liberal Party of Quebec are not out to destroy a prized policy without cause. Quebec’s poor financial situation simply cannot support such a heavily subsidized system at the moment. In fact, this isn’t the first time the system needed to be altered—the rate was originally $5 in 1997 and was increased to $7 in 2004. Recently, an increase for the flat rate to $7.30 was planned for Oct. 1, with additional increases to account for costs. In the end, there is no telling how much the rate will have to change in the future. What’s the point of having a standard rate if it’s not a desirable one?

Another problem with the current system can be seen through the principle of supply and demand. Due to the low cost of daycare services, they are in high demand in Quebec. However, due to limited funds and low revenue, there is not enough space—slots exist for only about half of the children in Quebec. This would seem reasonable until accounting for the over $2.2 billion Quebec spends a year on childcare, which is almost two-thirds of how much is spent by every province in Canada combined. At this rate, more people are expecting to get a slice of the affordable childcare pie, since a large portion of that spending comes from their taxes.

Limited space introduces another problem as well. Families that are better connected and affluent will have superior access and ability to get to the right locations and sign up on the waitlists as soon as possible. To illustrate, in 2005, over 58 per cent of children in daycares were from families making more than the average income at the time. Families that are already struggling have to forfeit jobs to take care of their children or look for expensive alternatives like hiring nannies, while paying taxes for a program they can’t even take advantage of. This only widens the gap between the rich and the poor, which goes against the very idea of an affordable, universal childcare fee.

Another problem associated with limited funding is the quality of the programs. A study in 2005 revealed that 61 per cent of subsidized facilities in Quebec were rated at “minimal quality.” While low fees are desirable, it shouldn’t come at the cost of a child’s well-being and future.

The childcare program in Quebec has clear problems resulting from the low-revenue nature of a heavily subsidized program,  though the province does not have the financial means to fix these problems. It might be, therefore,  true that a sliding-fee may be the only solution.