Ottawa will transfer nearly $6-billion to Quebec over five years as part of a national child-care program and the funding will not have conditions, meaning the provincial government can spend the money as it sees fit.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier François Legault made this announcement on Thursday in Montreal, a move that follows the federal government’s budget pledge to work toward an average $10 a day early learning and child-care spaces for those under the age of 6.
The announcement took place in advance of a much-anticipated federal election call that’s expected as soon as in the coming days. Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals would be seeking a majority government in the forthcoming campaign and the party’s prospects in Quebec will be critically important to that pursuit. In 2019, the Bloc Québécois won 32 of 78 available seats in the province while the Liberals won 35, the Conservatives won 10 and the NDP had one.
Mr. Trudeau said Thursday that the agreement will provide Quebecois families and communities additional support as the country rebuilds from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Over the next five years, we will help Quebec create tens of thousands of new child-care spaces while continuing to support even higher quality care across the system,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“Today’s agreement is a very good example of co-operative federalism that we believe in and it will benefit the entire population.”
Ottawa has recently reached child-care agreements with other provinces and one territory: British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and Yukon. Ontario is talking with the federal government and will negotiate a deal to ensure parents can access affordable child-care options, Caitlin Clark, a spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said Thursday. She said the province needs long-term financial support that is flexible to respond to unique needs of parents.
Mr. Trudeau said the federal investment will bolster Quebec’s existing child-care system, which he noted is already an inspiration for the rest of Canada.
The funding will be used to complement Quebec’s existing child-care model, Mr. Legault said, adding that young parents and children will benefit directly. He said that the province already spends $2.7-billion on child care that costs parents an average of $8.50 a day. He said the funding will mean that Quebec will have financing to develop its existing work.
Mr. Legault described the agreement as “a great victory for all Quebec families.” He noted that the funds are unconditional, allowing the Quebec government can bolster its own system, now costing about $2.7-billion a year.
“This is an agreement that respects Quebec’s jurisdiction that, again, that child-care services and education services are the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec,” he said.
Other parties were critical of the federal Liberal commitment.
“Canada’s Conservatives will have more to announce on childcare in the future. But Canadians can be assured our plan will be affordable, respect parents, and not be based on a one-size-fits-all approach that benefits bureaucrats more than families,” Conservative Party spokesperson Josie Sabatino said in a statement.
Gabriel Ste-Marie, the Bloc Québécois finance critic, said the Liberal government was acting on a Bloc request to enact the unconditional transfer of funds for daycare.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Quebec has done a remarkable job of being able to fund an affordable child-care program on its own.
“I do also want to point out that there’s been long waiting lists in Quebec since Trudeau took power in 2015,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It took him six years to do anything to help that.”
It has also been nearly three decades since the Liberals have been promising a national child-care program, Mr. Singh added.
Mr. Singh also said it is clear Mr. Trudeau is about to trigger an election but, with concern about the fourth wave of the pandemic and the risk of the Delta variant, he said the focus should be on ensuring there is help for Canadians and that people are vaccinated rather than putting the country through an election that could worsen the situation.
A spokesperson for the Green Party said they had no comment at this time.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.