A push for a national child-care strategy is taking place in Winnipeg and drawing in some of Canada's political leaders.

About 600 people are taking part in the ChildCare 2020 conference, which started Thursday and goes until Saturday at the Fort Garry Hotel.

It's been a decade since a national conference was last held — ChildCare 2020 is just the fourth such conference in Canada’s history — and organizers said not much has changed when it comes to affordable, accessible child care in Canada.

Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair presented his child-care strategy on Friday and federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau appeared via video.


Child-care fees and accessibility vary from province to province and there is a need for new national policy and funding to level the playing field for all families, say organizers of a national conference in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Speaking to CBC News, Mulcair said the NDP, if elected to govern, will provide one million subsidized daycare spots in Canada.

"We are going to be able to look at Canadians and say universally-accessible, quality, affordable childcare — at most $15 a day," he said. "That is only one election away with an NDP government."

He cited Quebec as a field-tested version of his plan. Quebec's plan provides $7 a day, and Mulclair said that allows more mothers to re-enter the workforce.

"For every dollar that went into the program, $1.75 went back in to government coffers ... so not only is it a system we can afford, it's system we can't afford not to do."

Gladys Rowe with the Winnipeg Boldness project said childcare and extra resources make a big difference for families.

"When parents have that guaranteed child care space, they have an easier time achieving their own goals," said Rowe.

The project is working with families in Point Douglas to come up with strategies to improve children's lives.

Winnipeg mother Rachel Thomas said it is because of child care that she is able to consider pursuing an education.

She has applied to a local college and said that wouldn't be possible without childcare.

Martha Friendly, executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit — one of three national child-care organizations behind the conference — said fees and accessibility vary from province to province and there is a need for new government policy and funding to level the playing field for all families.

"We have never envisioned it as a one-size-fits-all program [because] in any community there are families who have different needs," she said. "But coast-to-coast-to-coast there are a lot of similarities in what children and families need."

She blames weak government policy and under-funding over the past several years.

"If you put those two together you have what we have now — we have [space] shortages, we have sky-high parent fees," Friendly said.

"The workforce is really underpaid and quality [of child-care service] is generally not as good as it needs to be."