The NDP is putting more of its election cards on the table, starting today.

In a bid to attract attention and get Canadians looking at policy more than a year before the next election, the Official Opposition has unveiled its proposed child-care plan, during an event at a non-profit daycare in Ottawa.

The key word in the announcement is affordability.

In recent weeks, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has suggested his plan will be broadly based on the low-fee Quebec daycare model. That program currently costs parents $7.30 a day.

Today, he shared the details of that plan during a press conference at an Ottawa daycare.

"The NDP will create or maintain a million child-care spaces across Canada over the next decade," Mulcair told reporters.

The goal is to ensure parents pay no more than $15 a day per child, he said.

According to the documents released by the party, the NDP plan would "progressively boost federal investment" over eight years. 

In its first year in power, an NDP-led government would kick in $290 million for 60,000 spaces. That amount would grow to $1.86 billion in 2018, which the party says would create 370,000 new child-care spots.

"For us in the NDP, quality, affordable, available child care is just one election away," Mulcair said.

The provinces would also pay into the plan, which would be "enshrined in legislation," according to the NDP.

It would also include "measurable benchmarks" with "publicly available reporting."

Quebec's existing $7-per-day services would also be maintained under the proposed new cost-sharing system.

"This is something that's not only a good idea economically, it's a good idea for families," Mulcair said.

"In fact, if you look at it, it's something we can't afford not to do."

Liberals attack NDP 'revisionist history'

The NDP's latest policy announcement sparked an immediate reaction from the Liberal Party.

Before Mulcair's press conference had even wrapped up, the Liberals sent out a press release attacking the NDP for its role in bringing down Prime Minister Paul Martin's government in 2005.

"Canada had a national child-care plan — a Liberal government negotiated a comprehensive national child-care deal with all of the provinces, contrary to Mr. Mulcair’s revisionist history," the advisory said.
 
"In 2005, it was the NDP that joined with Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to topple the Liberal government. One of Mr. Harper's first actions was to cancel the child-care plan."

"As a result of the NDP’s and the Conservatives’ actions, an entire generation of children was raised without access to high-quality, universal child care," it concluded.

Tories question cost

Social Development Minister Candice Bergen took her critique of the plan to Twitter. 

"Our government believes that parents know what is best for their children," she tweeted. "The NDP disagree."

In subsequent tweets, Bergen pointed out that the NDP "[have] voted against our child-care benefit," which, she said, NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen had called “ill-conceived and a slap in the face."

She repeated her suggestion that the NDP would "take away the [child-care benefit and] raise taxes on families [and] seniors."

In fact, the NDP has explicitly said that it won't cancel the child tax benefit. 

In response to a query from CBC News, Prime Minister's Office spokesman Jason MacDonald also wondered how the NDP would pay for its proposed program.

NDP Child Care - Tom Mulcair

The New Democrats are proposing a national child-care program that NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says would cost parents no more than $15 a day per child. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"Carbon tax?" he asked.

The government brought in the child-care tax benefit "to give parents choice in the type of child care that works best for their family," MacDonald noted.  

"It helps support over two million children annually."

MacDonald pointed out that the NDP even opposed a 2010 expansion "to ensure that single-parent families receive tax treatment comparable to two-parent families."

"Parents won't be fooled by Mr. Mulcair," he predicted.

Quebec model shows surge in daycare use

Parallel announcements will be made by NDP MPs and candidates in cities across the country, including Regina and Thunder Bay.

Mulcair will also go on a national tour to sell the policy, travelling to Toronto, Halifax and Charlottetown.

Unveiling a key plank of his election platform will undoubtedly open Mulcair to criticism from his opponents, particularly because the cost of the overall program is expected to be high.

Part of that will likely be defended by Pierre Fortin, an economics professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal, who will be on hand to answer questions. Fortin has done extensive research on how Quebec's child-care program affects the work force.

In a study from 2012, Fortin and his colleagues concluded that after the low-cost daycare program was launched in 1997, originally at $5 a day, the rates of children in daycare exploded.

Between 1998 and 2008 the percentage of children in child care grew to 43 per cent from 16 per cent. There was an equally large increase in the number of Quebec women who entered the work force. Fortin suggests that increase in turn had a direct impact on gross domestic product, meaning the cost of the program can be offset by more money in government coffers through increased income taxes.

But for all the uptake in the Quebec program there are questions about sustainability. In fact, the Quebec Liberal government recently increased the daily rate slightly and hinted the province may move to a sliding scale.

A Liberal plan under then Prime Minister Paul Martin for a national child-care program was set to cost $5 billion over five years in 2006.

Ironically, the NDP helped bring down that Liberal government, leading Conservatives to power. The Conservatives scrapped the plan and chose to offer parents a universal child-care benefit of $100 a month instead.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story said that the cost to parents for Quebec's day care program was $7/day. In fact, the cost increased this fall to $7.30/day.
    Oct 15, 2014 2:24 PM ET
With files from Kady O'Malley