Permanent austerity in Québec

As the Premier is fond of saying, the worst is behind us, and Quebec is now set to enjoy more prosperous days. Despite Mr. Couillard’s assurances, it was hard to take his word for it at the beginning of the year. The announcement last month that daycare funding is under review has confirmed our suspicions.

There’s no comfort in learning that there will indeed be $120 million in cuts. The fact that $60 million are budgeted in 2016 to mitigate their negative impact doesn’t change a thing: public daycare centres and other subsidized child care will have to make do with less.

More specifically, it means that roughly 4.5% will be cut from the subsidies paid to 60-space public daycare centres. For centres of this size, services will have to be maintained even though subsidies will go down from $724,000 to $691,000 this year.

To say that there will be no impact on the quality of the educators’ work is simply not true. Daycare managers will have to cut back on the quality of the food offered to toddlers, reduce the number of field trips, increase group sizes, etc.

We are settling into a permanent condition of restriction. As we often say, austerity is not just a hiccup, an unpleasant time-bound experience: it’s a new way of thinking about and structuring the state. Even if budgetary cut announcements will become more sparse, the impact of said cuts is permanent. The government is proposing a whole new social model.

Child care provides a telling example because the cuts in that sector are permanent. Even though the government is presenting the $120-million cuts as a targeted effort, they are settling in permanently. Operating subsidies for public daycare centres have dropped $51.4 million since 2012-2013, once adjusted for inflation. This decrease already represents a 4.5% shortfall in the budget of the various daycare centres. It is therefore to this already amputated funding baseline that the new cuts are being added.

In the end, public daycare centres will be structurally underfunded. Expect to see their quality advantage over private daycare put into question. The daycare pricing differentiation, which in fact annihilates the existence of a system with reduced prices for parents, clearly reveals the direction chosen by the Liberal government in Quebec: to use the cuts to champion private daycare over the public daycare system.

In the coming weeks, IRIS researchers Eve-Lyne Couturier and Philippe Hurteau will publish a study looking into the benefits of maintaining a subsidized reduced-price daycare system. Unfortunately, the government seems to take little notice of this sort of analysis, convinced as it is of the relevance of reducing state social spending.


Philippe Hurteau is a researcher with IRIS, a Montreal-based progressive think tank.  

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