Affordable child care promised in Tuesday budget, but $10-a-day system ruled out

The B.C. government is promising more affordable child care for parents in Tuesday’s budget, but has ruled out following Quebec’s model of a universal cap on daily fees.

The government’s throne speech said it would “improve access and affordability of child care.” But the province can’t afford to implement a Quebec-style model costing less than $10 a day for child care, said Premier Christy Clark.

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“Here’s the thing we know about what happened in Quebec, is that the Quebec system was very, very expensive, and I think many Quebecers are recognizing it’s unaffordable to provide daycare at the same rate universally to people who are very, very wealthy, as it is to people who are not so wealthy,” Premier Christy Clark told reporters this week.

“This is an issue, I think, of vital importance for women. … All of us are providing child care in different ways, and we’re improving our prospects for our children by investing in that.

“That’s something that has always been important to me, so we’re going to speak to that in the budget.”

In Quebec, parents currently pay $7 a day for child care.

“Universal childcare is estimated to cost upward of $1.5 billion and $2 billion a year, and realistically, within the economic environment we’re in, it’s not achievable for us at this time,” said Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux.

Instead, the government is looking at what it can do within the context of early childhood learning and its StrongStart program, which provides certain free services for kids up to five years old to prepare them for kindergarten.

B.C. provides a child care subsidy of up to $750 per child, depending on a family’s income and number of children. An average of 50,000 children get subsidies each year, costing the government more than $142 million.

An estimated 240,000 children up to age five are in some form of child care, according to government figures.

That subsidy system is completely dysfunctional and there are many cases of parents who get a subsidy and still can’t afford to pay the remaining amount of child care fees, said Sharon Gregson, a spokeswoman with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C.

“It’s just a really poor way to try and prop up a child-care system,” Gregson said.

The coalition, which represents parents, child-care providers, unions and community organizations, is advocating B.C. implement a $10 a day child-care system. The government’s cost estimates are smoke and mirrors, Gregson said.

“Nobody is asking them to spend $1.5 billion in this budget,” she said.

“What we are saying is they need to start aligning their investments moving toward an affordable, accessible, $10 a day plan.”

The coalition is worried the government might instead tinker with its subsidies, further entrenching a broken system, she said.

The government always talks about improving child care just before an election, said NDP critic Sue Hammell. “We do have a crisis in the child-care system,” she said. “We have the highest costs in the country, fewer spaces, and there’s been no new capital into the program since 2009.”

The NDP promised in the last provincial election campaign to cap child-care fees and create targets and timelines to build a more affordable system. But Hammell said that doesn’t mean $10 a day daycare.

“We have said clearly that unless the federal government comes on board in a serious way, that a $1.5-billion childcare program is not an option,” Hammell said.

“It’s just too expensive.”

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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