Reality Check

Fail The Liberal national child-care plan: Evolution of a promise

Categories: Child care Michael Ignatieff

- By Tyana Grundig


The Liberals have been talking about a national child-care plan for a long time, 18 years in fact.


Former leader Jean Chretien first introduced a national plan in the 1993 Red Book, the campaign platform for the election that year.


His was an ambitious plan, but with a bit of a catch, promising to commit to expanding existing child care in Canada by 50,000 new quality child care spaces "in each year that follows a year of three per cent economic growth, up to a total of 150,000 new spaces."


For its part, a Liberal government was ready to offer $720 million over three years, to be matched by the provinces. But it never happened as the provinces pulled back when they saw their transfer payments subsequently capped by then finance minister Paul Martin in a series of cost-cutting budgets.


Fast forward a decade, then Liberal finance minister John Manley commited $25 million for early childhood development services in 2003-04 with the promise of an additional $875 million over the following four years.


That set the groundwork for another campaign promise in 2004. Then leader Paul Martin proposed $5-billion over five years on another national child-care plan, designed, it was said, to create 250,000 new child-care spaces by 2009.


Following the election, the minority Martin government managed to sign deals with each province before the government fell in 2005.


At that point, Stephen Harper came to power in January 2006 with a child-care promise of his own. He scrapped the Liberal plan for a federal-provincial system in favour of sending parents a monthly cheque of $100 for each child under six, for the families to spend as they saw fit.


The cost of Conservative's Universal Child Care Benefit plan, according to Conservative election brochures, is about $2.6 billion annually. So it has actually cost more than the $5-billlion over five years Liberal child-care plan or a total of $13 billion over that same period.


In the 2008 election, the Stephane Dion Liberals unveiled yet another national child-care plan, this one for $1.25 billion after four years and which was designed to create 165,000 new child-care spaces.


In January 2011, Ken Dryden, the former Liberal cabinet minister who had spearheaded the 2005 plan, told a news conference that the Liberals wanted to bring back a national program, adding that the $100 payments don't come close to meeting the child-care costs of the average Canadian family, which he put at roughly $8,000 a year.


He suggested, however, that the new plan would be more modest than 2005, given the state of the economy. Which brings us to today's announcement.


As part of its focus on families, the Liberal's National Child-Care Plan has morphed into Leader Leader Michael Ignatieff's Early Childhood Learning and Care Fund.


Unlike previous Liberal plans, this one seems to be shorter on both details and funding, at least from government to government.


This new fund would start at $500 million a year, rising to $1 billion annually by the fourth year.


How many child-care spaces would this create? No one is saying. Unlike previous Liberal plans, this one has no targets. And no apparent requirement for the provinces to chip in with matching funds.


All we know is that the $500 million would be shared between the provinces for child-care infrastructure, training and/or spaces. Oh, and Liberals said the Conservative's $100 a month payments, worth $2.6 billion annually, will continue as well.


What started as a targeted plan back in 1993 with promises of $720 million, has now evolved, in Liberal eyes anyway, into a combined (Liberal-Conservative) $3.1-billion a year child-care plan with no real guarantee of a single new daycare space being created.