In the long months leading up to the Toronto municipal election, it seems as if the mayoral and city council candidates have all but forgotten students.
Though candidate platforms include transit plans, they don’t talk much about reducing the cost of student metro passes. At $108 a month, we pay nearly three times as much as students in other major cities such as Ottawa and Vancouver.
But while tuition and fee hikes and shrinking job prospects might not be on the agenda for the municipal race, the debated issues will have a surprising impact on us as both students and adults in the workforce.
Before reading week, as I was walking down Gould Street, I came across two students promoting a panel discussion on child care. Rabbia Ashraf and Priyanth Nallaratnam, from the Continuing Education Students Association of Ryerson, stood in front of a colourfully decorated table complete with a Wheel of Fortune-type prize wheel, trivia questions and little bags of candy.
Spin the wheel, answer a question, win the candy and gain the knowledge that Ontario pays the highest childcare rates in the country. While Ontario parents set aside an average of $1,152 a month for childcare costs, neighbouring Quebec parents pay just $7 a day, though prices are bound to increase as the provincial subsidy dries up. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, countries like Sweden are leading childcare reform with free care for preschool-aged children.
I, like many students, thought that while Ontario childcare costs are clearly unjust – it was Social Justice Week after all – they aren’t really my concern. I don’t have children and I don’t plan to be with child at any point during the new mayor’s term.
However, I was wrong; childcare costs should be our concern.
For student-parents, and there are many here at Ryerson, child care is as much a concern and barrier to education as tuition.
Budgeting over $1,000 a month for child care leaves some student-parents unable to pay for school at all. Even those with access to the Ontario Student Assistance Program must rely on subsidized care. But according to the City, there are over 16,000 children waiting for subsidized spaces in Toronto.
At the “We All Care About Child Care” panel at Ryerson on Oct. 9, University of Toronto student and mother of three, Margaret Ebifegha, told a story that is all too common. Unable to secure subsidized care spaces, Ebifegha had to rely on friends to pick up her children after school. When friends were not available, she would have to leave lectures early or miss class altogether, jeopardizing her education and future.
According to Emily Duncan Nadeau at the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, child care is an issue of equity.
“Child care evens the field for parents to go back to school or to go back to work no matter where they’re coming from, what income level they’re coming from,” says Duncan Nadeau. “Child care can be a lynchpin for keeping a life together.”
For those of us without children, it’s easy to think of child care as an “other people” issue, and think it has no affect on our immediate lives. But what about the people you rely on, like professors, coaches and bus drivers. What happens to your day if they don’t show up to work because child care wasn’t available? Think cancelled classes, fewer practices and unreliable transit services.
How will childcare decisions made today affect us years into the future? Childcare reform takes time. Student debt can follow us into adulthood, and in five to 10 years, when we are ready to start families of our own and paying off debts and saving for retirement, reduced childcare costs will be appreciated.
So, on Oct. 27, go vote and have your say, because as Duncan Nadeau says, “The municipal election is about shaping the city that you want – not just for today, but for the future.”