Alberta's NDP government is introducing a $25-a-day daycare program at 18 centres in the province, creating up to 1,000 new child spaces and 230 new jobs.
Under the $10-million pilot project announced Tuesday by Premier Rachel Notley, each eligible centre will receive up to $500,000 in operating grants in the first year, with the possibility of receiving two more years of funding.
The government wants daycares to include spaces for the children of shift workers, and children with special needs.
Interested daycares need to apply to be part of the program. Notley said successful applicants will be announced in early 2017. She said the pilot project will be a step towards a province-wide system.
"What we learn from the initial 18 will guide us on how to best develop a new childcare system," Notley said. "We will be in a position to implement a maximum of $25-a-day child care as the province's finances permit."
Notley wants daycares in rural and urban areas, in accessible locations such as hospitals and other public buildings.
Terri Butler's five-year-old son has been attending the child care centre at MacEwan University for a year.
Butler said her salary is entirely taken up by the family's mortgage payments and her son's daycare costs. She said the existing system lacks affordability and quality.
She is excited by the government's announcement and says it will help Alberta families.
"It means we can work in the jobs that we choose and just make better choices for our families," she said.
There were 109,500 licensed and approved child care spaces in Alberta as of March 2016. Many more children receive care in unlicensed and unregulated day homes.
The government plans to continue the existing child care subsidy, which offers full and partial subsidies to more than 24,500 children. Families making less than $50,000 a year can qualify for a full subsidy.
The NDP promised during the 2015 election to move towards $25-a-day daycare. However, the current financial situation means the government is rolling this out on a limited basis.
On Monday, the government announced a limited rollout of another promise. Instead of introducing a province-wide school lunch program, Notley announced a $3.5-million pilot program for 14 publicly-funded school boards.
Each board gets to choose one elementary school to participate in the project.