The Quebec government will be slashing $56 million from the province's daycare budget despite a commitment to increase the family ministry's budget by 3.2 per cent.
Both the government-subsidized non-profit daycare system (CPE) and private daycares will be affected by the cuts, according to Family Minister Nicole Léger.
Léger made the announcement to CPE representatives on Thursday. She said the reductions will help balance the provincial government's budget.
Léger said the government will slash $37.9 million from the CPEs budget effective July 1. This represents 3.5 per cent of the entire budget allocated to the non-profit daycare system.
The other $18.3 million will be taken out of the subsidies given to private daycares.
"We have to remember that the family ministry also has to comply with budgetary efforts – all ministries have to – to counter the $1.6 billion deficit left behind by the previous Liberal government," said Léger.
The provincial budget tabled last fall promised a 3.2 per cent increase in the family ministry's budget.
Léger said the ministry was given the increase in order to add the 28,000 daycare spots promised by Premier Pauline Marois during the Parti Québécois' election campaign last fall.
Taking money from CPE surplus
The government said it would be taking $6.6 million from a $222 million surplus in the CPE network.
"When we have to take measures to help the budget, there's nothing that forbids me from looking into the surplus," said Léger.
Louis Senécal, the executive director of the association representing the provinces CPEs, said the network is entitled to the extra money.
"Government guidelines say that CPEs can accumulate 25 per cent of their turnover as a surplus for a total of $250 million. So, we're well within the limits with $222 million," he said.
Senécal said the surplus is typically used to help maintain buildings and set up installations. He said the money spent in the last seven years has doubled but the financing has remained the same.
Léger also said the government would be saving money by increasing the ratio of children per educator for 4-year-old children.
Léger said the ratio of children for one educator would increase from eight to 10.
She said most daycares already assign 10 children to each educator in that age group, but added she would make sure this becomes the norm across the province.
The ratio of eight children per educator for children aged 18-months and up will remain the same, said the minister.
According to Senécal, the government's justifications for the cuts fail to explain why it is taking those measures to balance the provincial budget.
CPE suspect cuts will help fund new preschool plans
Senécal said he suspects the government is trying to cut from the CPEs budget to help fund a new preschool program for 4-year-old children from disadvantaged families.
The program was announced by Education Minister Marie Malavoy earlier this week.
Léger, however, said the family ministry would not be spending any money on the government's new preschool plans.
"I am not financing the preschool for 4-year-olds. It's the government as a whole, the education ministry and that's for $8 million," she said.
Senécal said he still does not understand why the Marois government feels the need to cut from the daycare network's funds.
"We don't understand Mrs. Marois' motivations," said Senécal. "Fifty million dollars on a $72.4 billion budget is a drop in the ocean."
"This government gets elected and its first promise is 'one child, one spot.' Then, all while creating the spaces, they take away all of the means in place to offer quality services to parents," he said.
He said the network will do everything it can to make the government backtrack on its decision.
"We will look at all of the ways [to put pressure on the government,]" said Senécal. "We can't believe the mother of Quebec's daycare network, Mrs. Marois, is putting an axe in this beautiful network that is a part of Quebec's pride."