11/09/2014 12:18 EST | Updated 01/09/2015 05:59 EST

Quebec sliding-scale daycare fees a bad idea, protesters say

Daycare workers and their supporters from across Quebec assembled in Montreal on Sunday to protest against possible rate hikes in the province's subsidized daycare program..

Thousands of daycare workers and parents with young children in tow gathered at Place des Festivals in downtown Montreal, bundled up and holding placards, banging drums and honking horns.

Protests were also held in other Quebec municipalities including Trois-Rivières, Sept-Îles and Rouyn-Noranda, as rumours swirl about possible — and substantial — fee hikes by Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government.

The rumours began circulating in September, and were renewed again this past week, after sources told media organizations about ongoing conversations within the government to radically alter the subsidized daycare program.

The most notable consideration is a proposal to change the fee structure from $7.30-a-day to a sliding-scale fee based on household income.

Protester Guillaume Allyson said he feared the financial impact higher daycare fees would have on his family.

Daycare owner Johanne Lapointe said the change would hurt single parents and struggling families the most.

The subsidized daycare program in Quebec costs the government $2.7 billion for 223,000 spaces.

Québec Solidaire and Parti Québécois leaders Françoise David and Stéphane Bédard were at the Places des Festivals to lend their support to the protesters.

David called daycares an "essential service" and said the subsidized program was a worthwhile program to maintain. She said CPEs made a world of difference for her generation of women, giving them the freedom to work.

Sliding scale?

The subsidized daycare program has been in existence since 1997 as a way to encourage women to rejoin the workforce after having children.

The parental contribution was first set at $5 a day. It was raised to $7 in January 2004 and to $7.30 last month.

Under former premier Pauline Marois, the fees were to go up to $8 in 2014 and $9 in 2015.

When he was elected last April, Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard vowed to index the cost of daycare to the cost of living, which he did on Oct. 1 when the fee was raised by 30 cents.

However, there are reports the fee could be raised to as much as $20 a day for some parents, depending on their income, as early as April 1, 2015.

Daycare associations say the subsidized daycare program already brings the government $1.50 in revenues for every $1 it puts in, because it allows so many more parents to stay in the workforce.