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B.C. NDP backs away from $10 daycare pledge ahead of budget

Finance Minister Carole James reads Pete the Cat, I Love My White Shoes to students at the Downtown Y Child Care Centre in Victoria on Feb. 19, 2018.


During last spring's provincial election, the BC NDP laid out specific plans for $10-a-day daycare, a crucial part of their agenda to make life more affordable for B.C. parents and a message that helped ensure the party captured seats once held by the Liberals.

But on the eve of a budget that offers specifics on how the government will proceed with it's plans, the minister responsible referred to the $10-a-day plan as a "slogan" that embodies the spirit of the moves the NDP will explain to the public in Tuesday's budget.

"Parents will see, as soon as the budget comes out, immediate affordability relief," said Katrina Chen, the province's Minister of State for Child Care. "That's going to help them address affordability issues. At the same time, we need to continue to build on the quality of child care."

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That plan is aimed at serving cash-strapped parents in the province, but also meeting a major commitment in an election campaign last spring that positioned the NDP to govern with support from three BC Green MLAs.

Political scientist Hamish Telford said the child-care commitment is arguably the most vital promise the NDP made to voters.

"A lot is at stake. This was a centrepiece of the election platform and one very appealing to a big section of the electorate – young families, in particular, and especially in the Lower Mainland where daycare costs are astronomical," said Prof. Telford, who works at the University of the Fraser Valley.

The platform was specific: "The $10-a-day plan will ensure no parent is shut out of work because of the high cost of child care by offering full-day care for $10 and part-time care for $7 a day, with no fee for families with annual incomes below $40,000 a year," it said.

Paul Kershaw, a professor with the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health who has a particular academic interest in affordability, said the $10-a-day program, which would cost about $1.5-billion a year, would be one of the most important social-policy investments in B.C. in a generation.

Similar fanfare came with Quebec's widely watched policy, launched in 1997. Fees were initially set at $5, then increased to $7 in 2004. Today, as part of a fee schedule tied to income, they range between $7.75 and $21.20. Over all, the program costs more than $2-billion a year.

Last month, the Parti Québécois, looking for traction among voters in a looming provincial election, promised a flat $8.05 rate a day, with free childcare for low-income earners. It would also scrap the sliding scale enacted by the governing Quebec Liberals, which has a peak $21-a-day rate for wealthier Quebeckers.

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Mr. Kershaw said funding for the Quebec program was insufficient early on to create consistently high-quality spaces, and middle-income and upper-income families were more successful at accessing better-quality spaces than their lower-income counterparts.

Iglika Ivanova, an analyst at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Vancouver, acknowledged the challenges the Quebec system has faced, but noted analysis has shown the program pays for itself by enabling parents to get into the work force and pay taxes.

She said the ups and downs of the Quebec program offer some lessons for B.C.

"B.C. needs to learn we can't cut corners on quality and have to invest in the work force of early childhood educators," she said in an interview.

Ms. Chen said Tuesday's budget – the first full budget from the NDP government since it came to power last summer, toppling the BC Liberals who had governed for 16 years – will be rich in details on how B.C. addresses all of these issues. "The picture will be way more clear," she said.

"That includes recruiting and retaining the work force of early childhood educators, and accelerating the creation of quality childcare spaces."

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Ms. Chen said the government plan will focus on licensed spaces.

Last week's Throne Speech promised "the largest investment in child care in B.C. history" – a dollar commitment that will make safe, affordable, licensed care "B.C.'s standard." That includes "dramatically" increasing training of early childhood educators.

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