More than 50 new child care facilities promised under the previous Liberal government could be at risk due to the province’s insistence that the city agree to cover an estimated $35 million in annual operating costs.

According to a staff report that will go before city council this week, the province has asked Children's Services to confirm that the operating costs for the 51 planned facilities would be covered within its existing budget and “not through new provincial operating funding.”

The province has given the city until Aug. 30 to confirm its ability to cover the operating costs and has warned that the projects won’t proceed otherwise.

Staff say that they need more time to “properly assess and prioritize the 51 projects,” though. They are recommending that council formally direct staff to request an extension until at least Oct. 31.

“An extension to the deadline would allow Children's Services to have more insight into its expected financial opportunities and pressures in 2020 and future years, and would allow sufficient time to properly assess and prioritize the 51 projects,” the staff report notes.

More than 3,000 spaces now at risk

The 51 planned facilities represent 3,049 badly needed new child care spaces.

Staff, however, say that they are unable to commit future operating funds to the facilities right now given “the current fiscal environment” and “expected funding reductions and policy changes in 2020.”

Staff also say that it would be difficult to commit to millions in operating funds during the middle of the city’s budget process.

Speaking with reporters at a press conference on Tuesday, Ward 11 Coun.Mike Layton said that the province’s decision to no longer fund the operating costs will “hurt families across the city.”

“On April 26 we got a letter from the province saying unless you can guarantee that you will fund these spaces you won’t be getting any funding from us. That’s the middle of the budget process for us,” he said. “We were given limited amounts of time to save 3,000 spaces and our staff have told us it is not enough time. We can’t in the middle of a budget process commit to cover expenses that are many years out.”

Layton said that the province’s decision not to fund the operating costs of the planned facilities is “not fair to the city, not fair to staff and certainly not fair to parents.”

He said that the province should commit to funding all child care facilities that have previously been promised.

Province insists changes aren't cuts

Responding to the criticism, MPP Stan Cho told CP24 that the changes should not be characterized as a cut.

"This is absolutely not a cut," Cho said. "Operational funding is continuing to flow from the Ministry of Education to the tune of $461 million for 2019/ 2020. And that's separate from the over $87 million that we are offering to The City of Toronto for 51 new child care service centres and schools throughout the Toronto area."

He said the province will offer a tax credit for child care that will allow parents to spend on alternative options, such as nannies or babysitters.

Cho said he doesn't think there is a lack of funding at the city. He claimed the city is hiring drivers "to go to city-run child care centres to see if there's enough greenery on the trees or if decorations are season appropriate" and said that expenditures at city-run child care facilities are higher on average than at private facilities.

At a press conference Tuesday, Mayor John Tory said that he does plan to communicate to the province that they are going “the wrong way” when it comes to child care.

He said that while the city can bear some of the cost for child care, the “majority share of the investment we have to make must rest with the provincial government” due to the additional revenue tools they have at their disposal.

“Property taxes which are how we derive the majority of our revenue were not meant to pay in whole for social programs like this,” he told reporters at a press conference. “We had a reasonably successful and expanding partnership with the provincial government in the past that tried to address the increasing needs of people for childcare, including subsidized child care, and now what we see happening is a step back in that regard. They are going the wrong way."