For the first time in British Columbia’s political history, all three major parties are making child care, and child-care funding, a crucial campaign issue.
The BC NDP has championed universal child care since 2013, and now the BC Greens and, more recently, the BC Liberals have rolled out election plans for heavily subsidized child-care spaces.
“This is a very unusual election,” said Sharon Gregson, longtime B.C. advocate on affordable child care. “We have the Liberals who, for the first time, are prioritizing child care.”
The Liberal plan on child care is the largest departure from a party’s traditional policy out of all three major groups compared to the last election.
It outlines $1.1 billion a year in new spending measures to help implement a means-tested, subsidized child-care program.
Households earning annual income of up to $65,000 will be eligible for $10-a-day spaces, while daycare costing $20 a day and $30 a day will be available to those earning up to $90,000 and $125,000 a year, respectively.
Said party leader Andrew Wilkinson: “We have got to get this $10-a-day program going because the people who are most affected by COVID job loss are women in lower income roles in small companies.”
But experts point to two places where the plan falls short.
A means-tested system, whereby child care is subsidized based on a family’s income, does not solve the problem, Gregson said.
“We don’t do that for elementary school, we don’t do that for community centres, for libraries, and we should not do that for child care.”
According to her estimate, about 12,000 new early childhood educators would need to be hired to carry out the Liberal promise.
Advocates said they’re concerned the party does not outline wage increases for these workers or training for new hires.
“Public funding is only going to lower wages for parents and expand spaces and there is no clue on what they are going to do about educator wages,” Lynell Anderson, with the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said.
Only about 20 per cent of kids in B.C. have access to licensed daycare.
Gregson estimated it would cost about $1.5 billion a year to fully implement $10-a-day care in B.C., with enough spaces and decent wages, compared to the Liberals’ $1.1-billion appraisal.
As for the other parties, the New Democrats’ $10-a-day universal plan is based on Gregson and her team’s own research, though they’ve hit roadblocks since taking office in 2017 in terms of training workers and securing the physical spaces.
Leader John Horgan has promised $1.5 billion in additional spending for child care over the next three years, as well as working with Crown corporations, universities, local governments, First Nations, and public and private sector employers to make sure new office construction and upgrades includes child-care space.
The NDP would also integrate child care into the Ministry of Education if re-elected.
The BC Greens have the most ambitious plan, with a commitment to integrate child care into the school system and provide free pre-school for three- and four-year-olds.
They would also raise pay for workers, provide free care for kids under three for working parents, and shell out an additional $525 million in new spending but only by 2023/24.
“The Greens are promising free child care, but there are not enough dollars to deliver,” Gregson said.