B.C. Liberals promise low-cost child care; NDP points to party's record

The B.C. Liberals have released a child-care plan that would see families offered $10, $20 or $30-a-day care, based on household income.

Speaking from Bee Haven Child Care in North Vancouver Friday morning, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said that, if elected, his party would bring in an affordable child-care program that would see families with a household income under $65,000 receive daycare for $10 a day. Families making $90,000 or less would pay $20 a day for child care and people with a household income of under $120,000 would pay $30 a day.

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Wilkinson said the pandemic has disproportionately affected working mothers, many of whom are staying home because they can’t find affordable child care. He said the Liberal plan, which would cost $1 billion in the first year, would jump-start the economy and get people back to work.

“It’s not going to be cheap, but it’s an investment in our future,” said Wilkinson, who also promised to create a single online application system for government-funded child-care spaces so parents don’t have to submit dozens of applications and scramble to find spaces for their kids.

Katrina Chen, the NDP candidate in the Burnaby-Lougheed riding and minister of state for child care under the previous NDP government, said in 2018, the B.C. Liberals voted against the NDP government’s $1-billion child-care plan. That plan, which passed with support from the Greens, included a fee-reduction initiative that reduced child-care fees by up to $350 a month per space, depending on the age of the child, along with the affordable child-care benefit, which is based on families’ income and provides up to $1,250 a month per child.

During a Zoom conference call Friday morning, Chen said before the Liberals came to power under Gordon Campbell in 2001, the NDP introduced a $14-a-day cap on daycare fees and were beginning to work on a universal school-aged-care system.

“That was taken away by the B.C. Liberals as soon as they came into government,” Chen said. “Imagine that we could have started that work in 2001 to have universal school-aged care, before- and after-school care, and also capping fees at $14 a day.”

Chen said voters need only look at the B.C. Liberals’ record on child care over the last 20 years to judge whether they’re going to keep their promise on affordable daycare.

A report by the B.C. branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that from 2012 to 2016, the final years of the B.C. Liberal government, the number of children with subsidized child care dropped by 23 per cent and median parent fees rose three per cent, faster than inflation. During that period, early childhood educator wages declined relative to all wages in B.C., the report found.

The centre found that in the first three years of the NDP minority government, the number of children with subsidized child care increased by 66 per cent.

The report also found that the median fees parents paid for infant and toddler child-care spaces decreased by seven per cent and remained stable in centres for children ages three to five. The report’s author, research associate Lynell Anderson, said when the NDP was in power, early childhood educator wages started to go back up.

The NDP government funded a $1-an-hour wage enhancement for early childhood educators, which in April increased to $2 an hour.

During a campaign stop at North Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards, NDP leader John Horgan said the NDP’s platform includes an additional $1.5-billion investment in child care, on top of what the previous NDP government has already invested.

The B.C. Greens have promised free child care for children under three and free early childhood education for three- and four-year-olds if they’re elected to government.

Wilkinson said the NDP’s 2017 election platform promise of $10-a-day child care has proven to be nothing but a slogan. Only two per cent of available child-care spaces are $10 a day, Wilkinson said, referring to a pilot program that saw 2,500 child-care spots offered for $10 a day at 53 prototype sites, including eight on Vancouver Island.

That program was funded through a $60-million investment from the federal government and the NDP has promised to expand the number of spaces available if re-elected. It has blamed failure to fully implement the program on lack of co-operation from the Greens, an accusation they reject.

“People are getting pretty jaded about 10-year plans from the NDP that turn out to be nothing more than slogans,” Wilkinson said.

The B.C. Liberals said they will release their full platform and a plan to create thousands of new child-care spaces in coming days.

Anderson said in an interview that the significant investment in child care promised by all three parties ahead of the Oct. 24 election demonstrates that it’s an issue that affects the majority of British Columbians.

A survey commissioned by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2019 showed that 90 per cent of British Columbians thought a public investment in quality and affordable child care was important, Anderson said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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