TORONTO -- Ontario municipalities will get at least $80 million less from the province in child care funding this year, which advocates say will jeopardize services.
Carolyn Ferns, with the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, said once municipalities calculate additional changes to cost-sharing agreements, that figure could rise dramatically.
"We're really thinking that once you see those changes, once all the municipalities really crunch the numbers on that, it's going to be much bigger -- it could be twice as much," she said Tuesday. "That's not paper clips. That's going to affect services directly."
Education Minister Lisa Thompson initially said $80 million does not line up with her numbers, but the ministry later confirmed it.
Thompson said municipalities can find some ways to find money.
"We need to be taking a look at realizing efficiencies because municipalities across Ontario have left child care spaces on the table and that's not acceptable," said Thompson, suggesting spaces at city-run child cares go unfilled.
"We're encouraging the administrations at municipalities or within municipalities around the province to take a look at how they're administering the programs and for goodness sakes do not leave any child care space on the table."
The City of Toronto has done the calculations Ferns referenced, and says it is getting $85 million less in funding from the province this year -- $29 million from a reduction in funding allocations and the rest due to the cost-sharing changes. Officials have said that jeopardizes child care subsidies.
The cost-sharing changes include asking municipalities to contribute 20 per cent of funding meant to help create more licensed, not-for-profit child care spaces, when the province had previously contributed all of the money.
The government disputes Toronto's numbers, saying the city will get $27 million less, including all funding changes.
The overall $80 million figure includes a fund that helped child care centres cover increasing labour costs due to a minimum wage increase to $14 an hour -- money that the government says was intended last year as one-time funding, but the previous Liberal education minister said that's false.
"It was permanent funding, because the minimum wage increase is obviously not going to end," said Mitzie Hunter. "Those costs have increased and the fee stabilization support was meant to help child care centres not pass on increased costs to parents."
Vanessa Kelly, a mom and former licensed home day care provider in Thompson's riding of Huron-Bruce, called on the minister to reverse the changes.
"Lack of access to licensed child care keeps parents, especially mothers, out of our local workforce," she said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said last month's provincial budget was not up front about child care or other funding cuts to municipalities.
"This government kept these cuts hidden from families, because they know how shameful and heartless they really are, and they know they are targeting families who are in the most need in our province," Horwath said in the legislature.