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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff gets a high five from Avie Brodeur at a town hall meeting in Winnipeg on March 30, 2011. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff gets a high five from Avie Brodeur at a town hall meeting in Winnipeg on March 30, 2011. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ignatieff vows to spend $500-million on childcare in first budget Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff released a new childcare strategy Thursday that would see a Liberal government invest $500-million in its first budget to create new daycare spaces.

It would be a cost-sharing program with the provinces and territories but the details so far are very sketchy.

The fund - the "Early Childhood Learning and Care Fund" - would rise to $1-billion annually by the fourth year if the Liberals form government, according to background documents circulated to reporters by Ignatieff officials.

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Provincial and territorial governments will be able to apply to the fund, according to the documents.

Mr. Ignatieff made the announcement at the Lord Roberts Preschool in Winnipeg. He first toured around the facility, talking to some of the kids and colouring with them with different coloured markers.

He said that this scheme is designed to be flexible and react quickly to the immediate needs of parents and is unlike the big national programs that previous leaders have promised. Liberals do not have a great track record when it comes to delivering day care programs; the Martin government, for example, came close in 2005 but lost the election before it could be implemented.

"We want to focus on what the issue is," Mr. Ignatieff said. "Long lists, parents desperate to get their children into a a great early learning and child care experience. We want to get this done as quickly as possible."

He said that this fund would allow, for example, the Manitoba government or the Quebec government to access it, only have to show that it has a good plan to expand daycare. "And we respond quickly and we get it done," said Mr. Ignatieff.

The Liberal plan does not involve what Mr. Ignatieff described as a "big vast federal program, employing lots of bureaucrats."

He added, too, that his fund - unlike the Martin program, which would have cost $5 billion over five years - does not require spending time "getting a whole new set of agreements" with the provinces. If the provinces want more child care an Ignatieff government will help them build it.

In addition, the Liberal plan would also keep the Tory $100-a-month universal childcare benefit would be maintained. Details are vague, however, beyond that.

Where does the money come from? An Ignatieff official briefing reporters would not say exactly where, noting that money saved from reversing the Tory corporate tax cuts - the Liberals estimate $6-billion - would help pay for the programs.

But that nest egg is depleting as Mr. Ignatieff has already made about $3-billion in promises so far - and this one would put it over that mark.

The Liberals could also not put a "precise" number of the number of new childcare spaces that would be created. The Ignatieff official said that depends on what the provinces and territories do, since they administer the childcare and early learning centres.

This is another attempt by the Liberals to create a national childcare program. In the 2008 election, Stéphane Dion pledged to scale up spending on childcare to reach $1.25-billion over four years, creating 165,000 spaces. And in 2005-06, Paul Martin had pledged $5-billion for a childcare program.

Last February, meanwhile, Mr. Ignatieff said there would be a national childcare program despite the huge $56-billion deficit. "This is the No. 1 social priority of an incoming Liberal government," he had said at the time.

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