Alberta families would receive up to $200 annually for each child under 18 under a new tax credit to be introduced by the Wildrose Party if selected to form the next government.
The tax deduction would cost the province an estimated $130-million a year, according to Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, who on Thursday announced the first plank of her party's "family pack" platform at a daycare in the Edmonton suburb of Sherwood Park.
"The $2,000 per child credit is a meaningful tax relief measure that will put money back into the pockets of Alberta families," Ms. Smith said.
The Progressive Conservatives, however, say tax credits only help families in a higher earning bracket, and pointed to the party's budget increase for subsidized child care for low-income families. It also said Wildrose is underestimating the real cost of the tax credit, pegging it much higher at close to $177-million.
The Tories, which are fighting to extend a 41-year dynasty, quoted Statistics Canada data, which as of July 1 last year counted 884,645 children under the age of 18 in Alberta. That suggests the Wildrose has missed tens of thousands of children in its budgeting.
Ms. Smith later defended the calculation, which she said is based on how many families are on the tax rolls with children, as well as those below the levels that require provincial income tax payments.
According to Alberta Finance, that Statscan figure is the latest available data on demographic breakdown for the province.
The Tories also criticized its main rival for not living up to its balanced budget pledge.
Ms. Smith said the initiative wouldn't be implemented until the government is posting a surplus of at least $250-million. If its budget is adopted, Wildrose said Alberta would be back in surplus position in its second year as government.
The proposal mirrors a similar federal Conservative program, which gives families $100 each month per child. However, that program was criticized in some quarters for not nearly doing enough to offset daycare costs, which in some regions is more expensive than a mortgage payment and spaces are often hard to find.
"We think it's been incredibly popular at the federal level," Ms. Smith said, "and we'd like to see it implemented here at the provincial level."
It's another issue where the PCs and Wildrose present vastly different options - Wildrose prefers tax credits, while the PCs would fund child care for low and middle income families.
Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford said the Wildrose tax credit doesn't help families who need it most. Last month's PC budget boosted child care subsidies, raising the program's cap on household income from roughly $35,000 to $50,000. The Wildrose plan doesn't help those who need it most, Ms. Redford said.
"What we see today's announcement doing is providing a small tax savings for people at a fairly high income," Ms. Redford said. "It starts with a $2,000 tax credit, which right away means you're at a certain income before you can make use of that. It's certainly an approach, we don't think it achieves the outcome Albertans want. We think what we do supports Albertans' families."
Ms. Smith said her party doesn't want to dictate to families about care for their children, but that Wildrose supports the whole gamut of options.
"Some parents choose daycare. Some parents choose day homes. Some parents choose to have a family member. Some parents choose to stay home with their kids," Ms. Smith said, "We don't want to be picking and choosing what kind of childcare is best for families. We want to be able to enable families to make their own decisions."
"This would give immediate benefit to all families with children under the age of 18," she added.
The approach appeals to some voters in Alberta, including Ben and Amy Dyck of St. Paul. Mr. Dyck, 33, who works in construction and Ms. Dyck, 28, who is a former teacher, now stay-at-home mom, turned out to meet Ms. Smith at a recent campaign event in their hometown.
"She respects families" said Ms. Dyck, as she held the couple's three-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. "I like that she leaves decisions in the hands of parents."
Voters go to the polls April 23.