The Most and Least Expensive Child Care in Canada


Written by Veronika Bradley, Editor for Children’s Health and Safety Association – February 14, 2017 and Republished by Diligencia Investigative Reporting – April 2019

“Affordable child care is an important issue not just for parents, it’s important for Canada’s economy.  When parents are given an affordable child care option, as in Quebec, they overwhelmingly choose to work,” says one of the study’s authors and CCPA Senior Economist David Macdonald. 

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) completed a study that examined the most and least affordable child care in Canada, including a comparison cost index for women from 25 to 34 years of age in the work force.

The study revealed the following analytics:

  • Toronto has the highest child care fees for infants, toddlers and preschoolers with an average of $1,676 a month.  St. John’s, Newfoundland has the second-highest amount at $1,394 a month.
  • Brampton, Ontario is the least affordable city in Canada for child care, with fees accounting for 36% of a woman’s annual income - the equivalent of four months’ wages.
  • 34% to 35% of women’s annual income is allotted for child care fees in Toronto, London and Windsor, Ontario and Surrey, British Columbia.
  • Quebec has the lowest fees in Canada providing universal, government-subsidized daycare for children aged four and under costing between $7.30 and $20.00 a day.
  • Gatineau, Quebec is the most affordable city for child care services in Canada costing only 4% of a woman’s yearly income – the equivalent of two weeks’ wages.
  • Laval, Quebec City, Montreal and Longueil, Quebec are also among the country’s most affordable cities for child care. Women spend between 5% and 6% of their annual income on child care fees – the equivalent of about one months’ wages.

“More than three-quarters of mothers with children under the age of six are part of Canada’s labour force,” says Martha Friendly, co-author and Executive Director of the Child Care Resource and Research Unit.

“But despite the high concentration of mothers who work, Canada ranks second last in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in government spending on early childhood education and care.”

 “The study compared child-care costs with women’s incomes,” stated Macdonald, “because mothers were more likely to take paid leave to care for children, more likely to work part-time due to childcare issues, and more likely to take days off work to care for sick children.”

Economist Pierre Fortin from the University of Quebec stated that the Quebec-style child care program helped grow the provincial economy, increased women's workforce participation and employment rates, and boosted income tax and consumption tax revenues flowing to provincial and federal coffers.

Just as NDP Leader Tom Mulcair stated his intention to provide an affordable Quebec-style child care for the rest of the country, a group of university researchers, one of which was an adviser to the federal Liberals on economic issues, released a report through the National Bureau of Economic Research loosely suggesting that children who attend the Quebec-style child care may perform well academically, but they have experienced cognitive, social and health issues leading to higher crime rates. 

Youth crime rates have dropped in Quebec in the last 16 years.

The Heckman Equation

James Heckman, Nobel winning economist at the University of Chicago developed the “Heckman Equation”, which is based on the premise that investments on education and training greatly affect early life – and he has the numbers to prove it.

His theory, inveterate in the science of brain development, is based on the fact that the first few years of life play a critical role in shaping a child’s future emotional, cognitive, and intellectual skills. Children who receive consistent, nurturing care are more likely to succeed in school, avoid getting into trouble with the law and lead productive lives at home and in the workforce.

Heckman evaluated high quality, early childhood programs in Chicago and other locations. His research suggests that future gains of a more productive workforce and less expenditures to the middle and upper classes on special education, health costs and the prison system, can outnumber the initial investment by as much as 7 to 1.

Heckman states that while it would be hard to replicate this program on a large scale, the ‘plus factor’ suggests “…a reasonably well-run early childhood program could actually make sense purely in dollars and cents.”

Successful State Funded Childcare in Denmark

Families in Denmark pay up to 25% of the cost of day care, while people who are single parents or have a low income pay between 0% and 25% of the cost - with discounts for siblings. The government pays the difference.

The tax rate is at 50% or higher of the national income, but the trade off is exactly what parents want – the opportunity to spend more time with their children when they are young.

While both parents need to work to sustain their lifestyle, what makes their work-home set up feasible is having childcare that is affordable.

Interesting Facts

  • Denmark is ranked 5th for female employment from the 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  • Parental Leave Entitlements allow parents take a year off when they have a baby. Most fathers in Denmark take about three months' paternity leave.
  • 97% of children aged three to five and 92% aged one to two attend day care. 55% of the children attend centres and the remainder are cared for by registered child care providers in private homes where costs are comparable.

Subsidized day care provides:

  • one adult to three children in the nursery
  • one adult to four children in kindergarten
  • one adult to eight children aged 5 to 6
  • three fresh meals a day – mostly organic
  • Most children start nursery around the time of their first birthday, although they are eligible to attend at the age of six months.
  • Children between the ages of three and six attend kindergarten.
  • More than 60% of day care staff has a bachelor degree in pedagogical education including language and physical development and how children interact with each other.
  • 40% of MPs in Denmark are women.

“The low cost of childcare, generous parental leave and the absence of a long-hours culture has meant that juggling a work-family balance is as much an issue for fathers as mothers in many Danish families. There is also a wide acceptance of high income tax rates of around 50%,” reports the Guardian Newspaper in the UK.

Successful State Funded Childcare in Sweden

Swedish parents, regardless of income, receive up to 16 months paid leave after the birth of their baby, extra tax credits to defray the cost of child rearing and have access to regulated, subsidized day care facilities that stay open from 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM.

Although the tax rate is about 50% of the national income, parents are provided with generous work-family policies, high quality day care and child care benefits, which costs the government tens of billions of dollars each year.

Politicians from other countries are looking at Denmark’s and Sweden’s state funded child care program and how they organize their maternity and paternity leave – as well as other family policies.

Every country that has a government subsidized child care system, especially on a very large scale, has dealt with a plethora of unforeseen problems and logistics – continually fine-tuning the services and benefits they provide to all parents.  Nothing’s perfect – but oh so easy to criticize.

Additional Resources

For additional information, Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following articles:

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