Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he wants more details on Ottawa’s new national child-care system included in Monday’s federal budget.
Ottawa is proposing up to $30 billion in fresh spending over the next five years to create a national child-care system. The goal is to reduce child-care fees by 50 per cent on average in regulated learning centres by the end of 2022, and to an average of $10 a day by the 2025-26 fiscal year.
But it all hinges on the provinces and territories buying into the federal government’s plan. Ottawa says it’s ready to provide up to $27.2 billion over the next five years to bring federal spending on a national child-care system to a 50-50 split with provincial and territorial governments as part of an initial five-year agreement.
But Pallister isn’t sold on the plan just yet.
“We have trouble with a federal government here that doesn’t want to partner effectively on providing health care, so I’m very hesitant to give a blank cheque to the federal government on a pronouncement pre-election,” the premier told reporters during a press conference Tuesday.
“I’ve got to see the details from Ottawa before I’m going to give them any approval on that. If you don’t care about health care, yesterday’s budget was a great budget.”
The premier also said he wants to see more of a focus on child-care availability, rather than affordability.
“Our issue is less the cost and more the availability. We’ve got wait lines we’re concerned about, we want to see more families get child care,” Pallister said.
“Ottawa appears to want to be making child-care cost less for those who can get it. But we’d like to see more child care for those who can’t get child care.”
Pallister’s statement was echoed by families minister Rochelle Squires.
“What we do want is more information from the federal government and the details have been very vague in terms of how they intend to roll out this plan across the country,” Squires said. The minister also said she also has concerns about how the plan will affect Manitoba’s child-care fees.
“The other question that I have is that because Manitoba already has the second-lowest parent fees in the country, whether or not we are going to be penalized for already holding parent fees at a lower rate,” Squires said.
“For example, parent fees in a preschool program would be capped at about $450 a month here in the City of Winnipeg or the Province of Manitoba. In another jurisdiction, in Calgary for example, that figure is triple. So if the federal government is looking to equalize parent fees across the nation, does that mean that they’ll be putting more money into other jurisdictions and thereby penalizing Manitoba for already having the second-lowest parent fees in the country?”
The child-care announcement in Monday’s federal budget is being applauded by parents and advocacy groups.
“Ten dollars a day would make a difference for us for sure and definitely for many other Manitobans,” Winnipeg parent Erica Vogt said. Vogt’s three-and-a-half-year-old child is currently in child care, and her 11-month-old is about to enter a child-care program.
“I think it’s exciting for parents really,” Vogt said. “For moms, we’re sometimes the ones that end up taking a hit for child care if it’s unaffordable. I know plenty of my friends that have cut back hours or who are literally working and not making any money to pay for child care in the hopes that eventually when their kids aren’t needing child care anymore that they’ll kind of pick up where they left of with their finances.”
Jodie Kehl, the executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, calls the announcement unprecedented.
“I think history was made yesterday with the announcement that came out,” Kehl told Global News.
“I think it’s the first of many steps toward a universal, affordable, accessible, (and) high-quality child-care system in our country.”
Kehl says she hopes the province will step up to put in their share.
“I think that over the last 13 months every province in Canada, including Manitoba, has talked about how essential child care is and how the existence of child care is necessary for any kind of economic or social recovery,” she said.
“I would anticipate there would be no excuses why any provinces wouldn’t want to partner with the federal government. This is a historical time to support children and families.”