Manitoba to receive $15M from feds for child care

More than $15 million earmarked for child care will flow to Manitoba this year as part of a new federal-provincial agreement to be signed Monday, CBC News has learned.

Families Minister Scott Fielding is scheduled to head to Ottawa on Monday to sign the agreement

Manitoba's Families Minister Scott Fielding, along with his provincial counterparts, will meet with federal Families,Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos on Monday. (CBC)

More than $15 million earmarked for child-care investments will flow to Manitoba from Ottawa this year as part of a new federal-provincial agreement that could be signed as early as Monday, CBC News has learned.

Manitoba's Families Minister Scott Fielding, along with his provincial counterparts, will meet with federal Families,Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos on Monday to discuss the signing of a multilateral child care framework.

A provincial order in council passed May 31 authorizes Fielding to sign the "Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework" between the Government of Canada and provinces/territories. The order describes it as "the basis for entering negotiations for an early learning and child care bilateral funding agreement between Canada and Manitoba."

The framework would make good on a 2015 campaign pledge by the federal Liberals and would mark the first time a multilateral agreement on child care has been reached between the provinces and Ottawa.

If the $15-million agreement is reached between the feds and Manitoba, it will mark the first time since 2007-08 that federal dollars were given to the province specifically for child-care services. Beginning in 2008-09, child-care service funding was rolled into the social transfer payments given to the provinces each year. 

The national child care framework sets out the governing principles for the 10-year child care spending the government unveiled in March: quality, accessibility, affordability, flexibility and inclusivity.

A spokesperson for Duclos confirmed the meeting will take place on Monday and the child care framework will be discussed, but could offer no further details. The order in council states the meeting will be held to sign the framework.

The province being on board with the agreement represents a departure from recent relations between the Trudeau Liberals and Pallister Progressive Conservatives. The provincial government continues to be the lone holdout in signing a health-funding agreement with the federal government. It also refused to sign onto the national strategy on climate change last year.

Manitoba to get $45M over 3 years

The framework will also include a three-year funding agreement between individual provincial governments and the federal government for child care funding. 

Manitoba's share of the federal investment over the next three years will be $15,589,268 in 2017-18, $15,577,558 in 2018-19, and $15,577,558 in 2019-2020, according to the order.

The provincial government announced earlier this year it would invest more than $6 million to create up to 739 new licensed child-care spaces to help tackle the child-care registry wait list, which has now topped 14,000.

It was unable to comment on the framework or funding commitment because of the communication blackout during the byelection period.

However, Fielding recently said that federal funding was the last piece needed to move forward with their plan to tackle Manitoba's day care deficit.

"The final piece is working with the federal government. There'll be significant dollars on the line, and we're going to create thousands more spaces for Manitobans," Fielding told the legislature during question period last month. 

The agreement will offer a window into the federal government's much anticipated plan for child care in the country. While the recent budget pledged $7 billion for child care across the country over the next decade, few details were given about how much each province would receive or how many of the promised 40,000 new spaces would be in Manitoba.

The meeting comes 12 years after former Liberal minister Ken Dryden and nine provinces agreed to create a national daycare program, only to watch the Conservatives end those agreements when they took office in 2006.

Advocate calls for provincial strategy

Pat Wege, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, applauded the new money, but questioned whether $15 million is enough to fill the gaps in Manitoba's system.

"$15 million isn't going to go very far," she told CBC News. 

She said it is hard to estimate how many new spots the money could create, but said the province might be able to "squeeze" out an additional 500 spots from the initial investment. 

"We also know we have a shortage of early childhood educators, so the plan has to be multi-facted," she said, adding one new centre with 75 spaces can cost $3.5 million in capital investment.

"It really depends on what Manitoba's priorities are going to be."

She feels the funds will likely go to creating more spaces, but implores the province to follow in Ontario's footsteps and create a comprehensive strategy for child care in Manitoba. 

"They [Ontario] recognized that there are many areas that they need to be invested in at the same time to build an affordable, high-quality system," she said, referring to the $1.6 billion announced Tuesday by the Ontario government. "That includes workforce, trained staff compensated, capital funding. That is what Manitoba needs to do. How far that $15 million is going to go, I am not really sure."

The order outlines that the federal agreement will cede the primary responsibility for delivery of the child-care programs to the provinces, who will be able to determine their own investment priorities. 

The provinces will not be required to match federal investment to access the federal dollars, but will be required to report annually on progress made. 

Provinces must come up with their their own action plan to identify the investments they will make using the funds.

The investments also must focus on "local, regional and system priorities that impact families more in need, such as lower-income families; Indigenous families; lone-parent families; families in underserved communities; those working nonstandard hours; and/or families with children with varying abilities," according to the order in council.

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With files from The Canadian Press