Fight to abolish daycare wait list fees heads to Ontario legislature

Two Toronto-area lawyers have taken their fight to have daycare wait list fees banned across the province all the way to Queen’s Park.

Nadine Blum says she managed to get her son into a downtown daycare that doesn’t charge wait list fees, but that was after the lawyer and mother spent money on upwards of 20 lists.

“I did spend $20 here and there, and it added up to probably a few hundred dollars,” she told Global News.

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READ MORE: High cost of daycare in Toronto may cause low-income families to remain in poverty

Kelly Doctor, Blum’s colleague at Goldblatt Partners LLP, also joined her in the battle to ban the practice.

“It is just the first of many, many expensive fees to get into daycare,” she said. “That’s the real problem, is that it’s one of many barriers.”

Together, the women penned a petition and called on parents to sign their frustration over the non-refundable wait list fees, which average around $20 but can be as high as $150.

They then called on Blum’s local MPP in the riding of Beaches—East York, Arthur Potts.

READ MORE: Congratulations, Toronto: You have Canada’s priciest child care

“I recognize this is a real hardship that wasn’t being looked after,” said Potts, who presented the petition to the Ontario legislature on Monday afternoon.

“The whole idea of a petition is to get people thinking about it and now I’m in the process of preparing a private member’s bill that I’m hoping one of the Members of the House can present.”

But Education Minister Liz Sandals questioned how widespread the practice of charging wait list fees is in the province.

“Is it something that we can control with regulation? Is it something that we need to go back into the legislation? I quite frankly don’t know the answer to that yet,” she told Global News.

READ MORE: How lack of affordable, accessible child care hurts the economy

The City of Toronto recognizes the issue though, and voted last summer to ban the practice, which Councillor Janet Davis argues exploits families.

“The city has banned it, effective Jan. 1 2017, but the real question is why are there so many wait lists? It’s because there isn’t enough childcare in the city of Toronto and in the province of Ontario,” she said.

Davis also said that the provincial and federal governments should step up and commit to providing increased funding for affordable childcare to help alleviate the pressure on families struggling to find daycare spaces.

READ MORE: Childcare costs highest in parts of B.C., Ontario, least in Quebec: study

Carolyn Ferns, of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, called the practice of charging wait list fees “gouging,” but adds that daycare centres are able to get away with it because parents are often at their mercy.

“There’s only childcare for one in four, one in five children in Ontario, so it’s a tight market,” she said. “And these people are taking advantage by charging parents so much for wait list fees.”

The petition is twofold, Blum and Doctor argue wait list fees are only part of the problem because it is next to impossible to know how the wait lists are being administered and whether or not the process is fair.

“There’s lots of stories that you need to suck up or know people to get in and that’s not fair,” Blum said, adding that they are also calling on the provincial government to regulate the lists in a way to ensure transparency about how they are being administered.

“It’s not fair that because you happen to have time or connections you should be able to jump the queue, so it’s just another barrier we want addressed.”