NDP proposes national $15-a-day child care program

OTTAWA – An NDP government would spend $5 billion a year to create a million daycare spaces that parents could access for no more than $15 a day, Tom Mulcair promised Tuesday.

A full year ahead of the next scheduled federal election, the NDP leader unveiled a cornerstone of his party’s platform: creation of a national, affordable, child-care program, to be phased in over eight years.

The announcement had all the trappings of a campaign event, with Mulcair delivering the news in the playground of a community daycare as children cavorted behind him, in full view of television cameras.

“For us it’s a priority to create these affordable child-care spaces across the country,” Mulcair said.

“It’s $2,000 a month in many of these daycares in Ontario … So I think that it’s quite obvious that people are paying another mortgage by putting their kids (in daycare).”

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Mulcair said a national child care program would “more than pay for itself,” allowing more women to enter the workforce, boosting economic growth and tax revenue and reducing the number of single mothers on social assistance – all while ensuring kids get off to a good start in life.

“So it’s something that we can’t afford not to do.”

In the first term of an NDP government, Mulcair is promising to negotiate deals with the provinces in which the federal government would pay 60 per cent of the cost, with provincial governments picking up the rest.

The goal would be to provide daycare at no more than $15 a day, although Mulcair did not say that would be a hard and fast cap. He stressed that the program would be flexible to accommodate different needs in different provinces.

Over the first four years, the annual federal contribution would ramp up from $290 million to $1.9 billion, creating or helping maintain almost 800,000 child care spaces.

Over the second four years, the annual federal contribution would grow to $5 billion. Once fully phased in, Mulcair said the program would support or maintain creation of one million daycare spaces.

The program is based on the success of Quebec’s $7-a-day child-care program, which Mulcair, a former Quebec cabinet minister, said he’s proud to export to the rest of the country.

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However, Quebec is struggling with the $2 billion cost of its program. It has recently indexed the daily fee to the annual inflation rate and is reportedly considering introduction of a sliding fee scale based on parents’ income.

Mulcair said it would be up to provinces to decide details, such as whether to have a sliding fee scale or whether to fund for-profit daycares, although the NDP preference would be to fund non-profit centres.

It’s conceivable that some provinces might prefer to spend their money on other priorities, like health care. But Mulcair said he hopes that by the end of a first mandate, he’d have “the vast majority of provinces signed onto a program that’s so attractive to them they wouldn’t want to leave the money on the table.”

Mulcair is using the child care issue to underscore what he sees as a big difference between the NDP and the Conservatives and Liberals, whom he accuses of talking about daycare for 30 years but never delivering.

In fact, Paul Martin’s Liberal government negotiated deals with all the provinces in 2005 for a national child-care program, worth $5 billion over five years. However, it never got off the ground because Martin’s minority government fell when opposition parties, including the NDP, voted non-confidence.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won the subsequent election and scrapped the child-care program, replacing it with a $100-a-month universal child-care benefit for parents of children under the age of six.

Mulcair said an NDP government would continue to pay the child-care benefit, as well as invest billions in a national daycare program.

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