In the Conservative playbook, when outright attacks on public services don’t work, you switch to veiled threats backed up by the consultant class. That playbook is being deployed again in the Ministry of Education’s recent calls for value-for-money audits of municipally run child care centres.

According to child care advocates, experts, and workers, the real purpose of these audits is to justify the closure of municipal child care centres, opening the door for further privatization.

“We’ve seen this before. They talk about an independent third-party review, but we know what that means. They’re going to give fat contracts to consultants from KPMG or Ernst and Young who are going to tell them exactly what they want to hear to further their agenda of cuts,” said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario. “These audits have been used to justify mergers, amalgamations, and privatization around the province and it’s never been to the benefit of families or workers. And that’s by design. The Ford government doesn’t care about service quality anymore than they care about actual working-class people. It’s just about starving the public sector.”

In 2017, KPMG recommended the Region of Waterloo close all regionally operated child care centres. Today there are more than 9000 children on child care waitlists in the area. Peterborough nearly closed their child care centres in 2020 following provincial cuts but a concerted effort by families and workers – and supported by CUPE Ontario – succeeded in keeping the centres open.  A 2021 Toronto report, meanwhile, forcefully concluded city-run child care centres are more efficient because of centralized administration and serve families that would otherwise have no access to care.

“These programs set the standard for care and good jobs. They cost marginally more because they actually pay a fair wage. But that small additional cost buys an incredible upside, with stable staff, thriving centres, and workers who can actually afford to live in the communities they support,” said Carolyn Ferns, Policy Coordinator with the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care. “There is a workforce crisis in child care. That’s why there are tens of thousands of families who cannot find care. The solution is to raise the floor for all child care workers to the benchmark of these city-run programs.”

Audits are a common tactic of the Ford government – but only when they support their preexisting agenda. They paid Ernst and Young to audit the impact of Bill 23 in six cities in the GTA, but then cancelled the process and never released their findings.

“This government just refuses to learn the obvious lesson. Privatization will not help families who need high quality care. Audits will not help workers who need better paying, stable jobs. There are real problems within the child care sector where the vast majority of workers are women, many are newcomers to Canada, and far too few earn a living wage that reflects the true value of their contribution to society. That is why we need more investment in robust, healthy public services.”