Ford loosens child safety rules

Minister de­fends new bill that would boost ac­cess to child care spa­ces

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - ONTARIO NEWS - SHAWN JEF­FORDS

TORONTO — Loos­en­ing rules to in­crease the num­ber of young kids al­lowed in day­cares will cre­ate more af­ford­able child­care spa­ces, On­tario’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment minister said Fri­day, dis­miss­ing con­cerns that re­forms con­tained in new leg­is­la­tion could put kids at risk.

Todd Smith said the pro­posed changes in a bill in­tro­duced by the Pro­gres­siveCon­ser­va­tivesthisweek will give par­ents more op­tions and help them get back into the work­force faster.

The bill, if passed, will al­low up to three chil­dren un­der the age of two in an in-home day­care. Cur­rently only two young chil­dren are al­lowed in such set­tings.

The changes would also al­low two child-care providers to look af­ter six in­fants at a time, an in­crease from four in­fants cur­rently al­lowed. They would also mean providers no longer have to count their own chil­dren to­wards the to­tal num­ber of kids in their care af­ter their child turns four.

In 2014, fol­low­ing sev­eral day­care deaths, the pre­vi­ous Liberal gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced changes that capped the num­ber of chil­dren in day­care set­tings. Smith said that hurt ac­cess to care.

“I think there was a knee-jerk de­ci­sion that was made a num­ber of years ago to re­duce the num­ber of spa­ces,” he said. “It wasn’t the right de­ci­sion for the peo­ple of On­tario.”

The new leg­is­la­tion, he said, would be an im­prove­ment for all in­volved.

“This is some­thing that’s not go­ing to cost gov­ern­ment any­thing but it’s go­ing to cre­ate much needed spa­ces in the child-care sec­tor,” he said. “It’s go­ing to al­low young fam­i­lies who are hav­ing chil­dren the abil­ity to get back to work ear­lier.”

Crit­ics, how­ever, said they were con­cerned that chang­ing the day­care ra­tios would put younger chil­dren who need greater lev­els of su­per­vi­sion at risk.

NDP leg­is­la­tor Catherine Fife said the leg­is­la­tion, known as Bill 66, would lead to less over­sight, which would lead to problems.

“What Bill 66 does is put the safety of chil­dren at risk,” she said. “It is not in any way shape or form a child­care strat­egy.”

Fife said the changes will also do lit­tle to ad­dress the ur­gent need for more child-care spa­ces.

“If you can find qual­ity, af­ford­able child care in the prov­ince of On­tario you have won the lot­tery,” she said.

Liberal leg­is­la­tor Mitzie Hunter called the gov­ern­ment’s changes “reck­less” and said the move has more to do with pol­i­tics than ad­dress­ing the des­per­ate need for child-care spa­ces.

She urged the gov­ern­ment to take more time to con­sult with par­ents and in­dus­try stake­hold­ers.

“It’s re­ally the rush to undo what this gov­ern­ment per­ceives as a Liberal change,” she said. “They want to wipe that away. But that’s af­fect­ing the lives of many peo­ple.”

Dur­ing the spring elec­tion, the Tories promised they would cover up to $6,750 of child care costs for On­tario fam­i­lies through a tax re­bate pro­gram but they have yet to make good on that pledge.

The pre­vi­ous Liberal gov­ern­ment had pledged a $2.2-bil­lion pro­gram that would have pro­vided free care for preschool­ers aged two-and-ahalf and older, un­til they reached kinder­garten.

Linda White, a child care pol­icy ex­pert and a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Toronto, said reg­u­la­tions for un­li­censed day­care providers should be strength­ened to en­sure bet­ter qual­ity of care, not wa­tered down just to open up more spa­ces. She noted that four in­fants in day­care set­tings died over seven months in 2014, bring­ing in­creased scru­tiny to the sec­tor.

“This is go­ing back­wards,” she said of the Tory leg­is­la­tion.

The pro­posed changes to child care are part of an om­nibus bill that deals with more than 30 reg­u­la­tions in a va­ri­ety of sec­tors in­clud­ing land de­vel­op­ment, source wa­ter pro­tec­tion and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions.

The gov­ern­ment tabled the leg­is­la­tion on Thurs­day just as the leg­is­la­ture rose for its win­ter break, which means the bill won’t be de­bated un­til politi­cians re­turn in mid-Fe­bru­ary.

CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

On­tario Gov­ern­ment House Leader Todd Smith speaks to re­porters fol­low­ing a PC Cau­cus meet­ing last month. On Fri­day, Smith said that chang­ing childto-care­taker day­care ra­tios would not put any chil­dren at risk.

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