Manitoba Progressive Conservatives pledge more affordable child-care options

The Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party pledged Sunday to make more affordable child care options if re-elected in the 2019 provincial elections.

NDP slams PCs over child-care funding freeze, Liberals allege wait lists are untouched

Heather Stefanson, the Progressive Conservative candidate for Tuxedo, announces her party's child-care plans at a recently opened facility in the Sage Creek neighbourhood of southeastern Winnipeg on Sunday. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party pledged Sunday to create more affordable child-care options by continuing to work with private businesses if re-elected in the fall provincial election.

Heather Stefanson, the PC candidate seeking re-election in Tuxedo, made the announcement Sunday afternoon at Living Prairie Childcare Inc., a 74-space facility that opened in July in southeastern Winnipeg.

"I think this is a prime example of how we can work together as part of the private sector to achieve what we really want to achieve, and that is more child-care spaces in Manitoba," Stefanson said at the press conference.

Through the existing child care-centre development tax credit — a $10,000-a-head rebate to corporations for each space opened up for children — the PC government paid $740,000 to Winnipeg construction firm Qualico to build Living Prairie in the Sage Creek neighbourhood. All its spaces have been filled, a PC spokesperson confirmed in an email.

Families with children from kindergarten to Grade 6 who live in the suburb have an average annual income of $135,426, according to Statistics Canada data provided by the Louis Riel School Division.

Her party would introduce a new monthly subsidy which offers up to $500 per month for 3,000 lower-income families to pay for a child-care option of their choice, she said. Eligibility criteria is yet to be established.

The province already provides subsidies for qualifying families to help cover child-care fees. The subsidy, which applies to children aged 12 weeks to 12 years, depends on household income, number of children, their age, number of days required and reason for care.

"Our new portable child care benefits will provide flexible child-care cost relief to eligible families who will need it most and offer more options to parents who feel that they don't have any," Stefanson said. 

The Manitoba government has already committed to funding 3,000 more spaces through a 2018 agreement with the federal government as part the national child-care framework. Stefanson said "these new spaces are over and above" the PC party's prior commitments.

In response to the Sunday announcement, the New Democratic Party of Manitoba slammed their opponent's child-care record. "Brian Pallister's government sat on their hands for three long years as families struggled to find quality, accessible, reliable child care," reads a statement release Sunday afternoon.

The NDP drew attention to the PC's child-care centre funding freeze which prompted 26,000 Manitobans to sign a petition from the Manitoba Child Care Association calling on the province to end the freeze.

"He made a de facto cut to the subsidy for the most disadvantaged parents for several years making it harder for those parents to access child care," the party said in a release. 

"Pallister's record on child care shows how little he cares about working families and how little he values early childhood education — he's only concerned for those at the top."

The Manitoba Liberals said the bottom line is that there aren't enough spaces available.

"There are over 16,000 children on the wait list and this announcement does not even come close to addressing this issue," a spokesperson responded in an email statement. "We need to start by expanding spaces and should be making it more affordable for all families."

Manitobans head to the polls on Sept. 10.