Ontario parents of children aged five and under will start getting rebates for licensed child-care fees in May, amid the provincial election campaign, and can expect to see costs cut in half by the end of the year now that the province has become the final signatory to a national program. 

Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially announced the deal in Brampton, Ont., on Monday, to bring child-care fees down to an average of $10 a day by the end of 2026.

"I know Ontario parents have been wondering for a while when this was going to happen," Trudeau said. "Well, we worked hard to get this deal done because you deserve affordable child care like all Canadian parents."

The rebates, retroactive to April 1, will represent reductions of up to 25 per cent. Parents are set to see a further cost reduction in December, when fees will be reduced – on average – by 50 per cent, with further cuts slated for September 2024 to bring Ontario to an average of $10 a day by the following September.

The fee cuts would amount to an average savings per child of about $6,000 a year by the end of 2022.

Ford, who will begin a provincial election campaign in a few weeks, framed the deal as one of several ways his Progressive Conservative government is saving people money, referencing other measures such as rebates on licence plate renewal fees.

"It's a great deal for Ontario parents and the right deal for Ontarians," he said. "It’s a deal that provides flexibility in how we allocate federal funding, flexibility that is critical for making this deal work for Ontario."

The $10.2-billion, five-year child-care program was to include $1 billion for Ontario in year one, which is 2021-22. Since that fiscal year ends in four days, the federal government is allowing the province more flexibility to push most of that spending into future years.

The overall envelope is the same, Trudeau said.

"Ontario's allocation was $10.2 billion, as we calculated it almost a year ago," he said. "And that's exactly what this deal is."

Ontario had wanted more certainty beyond the life of the original five-year deal – the federal government's budget last year said funding for the program after the fifth year would be $9 billion annually – and got a commitment of $2.9 billion for year six, which officials describe as "out-year funding."

"We were happy to sign that because as you may remember, when we announced this child-care funding, it was permanent funding," Trudeau said. 

"So all the other provinces also know they get funding on the sixth year, on the seventh year, on the 10th year, on the 20th year."

Ontario will now work to enrol 5,000 licensed child-care centres and licensed home daycares into the program. Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the operators have until September to apply, and parents will receive an "automatic benefit" and savings on their monthly fees.

Opposition leaders said the rebates should be retroactive to Jan. 1, as in some other provinces, not just April in order to account for what they called a delay in Ontario signing the deal.

"I will also say that I am disappointed that Premier Ford, who, knowing how difficult a time young families are having making ends meet, knowing that federal child care money was on offer that could change their lives, deliberately chose to make them wait, and wait, and wait for help," Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said in a statement.

The deal also has Ontario creating 86,000 child-care spaces, though that number includes more than 15,000 spaces already created since 2019. The new spaces will be a mix of for-profit and not-for-profit, the government said.

As well, Ontario secured a review mechanism in year three that lets the province provide an updated costing model and ask for more money to account for any shortfalls.

Ford said the province would work on boosting wages for early childhood educators. The Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario has called for a $25 minimum wage for registered ECEs. Currently, the province gives a $2-an-hour wage enhancement for those making less than about $28 an hour. 

"To be frank, they deserve more money. That's my opinion," Ford said.

"The job is very, very difficult. It's a job I wouldn't be able to do. You know, they they have a special skill set and they deserve to get paid appropriately and we'll work as quickly as possible and collaborate with stakeholders."

Ontario is the last province or territory to join the national plan. Seven provinces and Yukon jumped on board in July and August, before the federal election was called. Alberta joined in November, New Brunswick and Northwest Territories in December, and Nunavut at the end of January.