Politics

Ignatieff pitches $500M a year for child care

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has proposed a half-billion dollar plan to fund new child-care spaces, ramping up to $1 billion a year by the end of a Liberal mandate.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff draws with a child during a campaign stop at Lord Roberts Preschool in Winnipeg on Thursday, March 31, 2011. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Latest

  • Money to provinces to create early learning, childcare spaces
  • Money available this summer
  • $500M a year in first year
  • Increases to $1B a year by fourth year

A Liberal government would get cash to the provinces for new daycare spaces as early as this summer, Michael Ignatieff said Thursday.

The Liberal leader announced a plan to give the provinces $500 million a year for early childhood learning, ramping up to $1 billion a year by its fourth year.

Ignatieff went to a preschool in Winnipeg to announce his plan. He says there wouldn't be any delay in starting the money because the party worked with the provinces to develop it.

"These programs very consciously and deliberately have been constructed with pre-consultation with provincial authorities and provincial experts because the key thing here is to act. To get it done for Canadian families," Ignatieff said.

"We'll have a flexible fund and we can get this thing moving. We don't need to have another three or four years of argument and negotiation."

Provincial governments could apply to the fund to pay for extra spaces in daycare and early childhood learning programs or train daycare workers. The Liberals would roll back a corporate tax cut that came into force in January in order to pay for the plan, Ignatieff said.

The Liberals have been focusing on social programs to paint themselves as a more compassionate choice than the Conservatives, who cancelled a Liberal daycare plan when they won the 2006 election.

In its place, the Conservatives brought in a taxable $100-a-month payment to parents. The Conservatives also provided tax credits to employers who created child-care spaces.

'Significant amount of money': Advocate

Child-care advocate Andrea Calver says the Liberal proposal could mean real services families are desperate for.

"This is a very significant amount of money," said Calver, who represents the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.

"One of the aspects of federal money in child-care is that it's meant to be combined with provincial money. So in fact the significant commitment of money put forward by the Liberals [would] be magnified in local communities with corresponding provincial investments."

Calver says the number of women in the labour force keeps increasing, but the number of daycare spaces hasn't.

"[Parents] actually need services, not just cash payments," she said. "To put this kind of significant money aside means that those services, actual child-care spaces, affordable child-care in communities, will significantly increase."

Group wants parents to choose

But putting taxpayer money into a program not everyone will use penalizes other Canadians, says Andrea Mrozek, a spokeswoman for the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. Mrozek says a program like the one Ignatieff proposes punishes parents who choose to stay home with their kids.

"Money should be given to parents so that they can have a real choice around how they use that," she said.

"The problem with systems set up is that not every parent will choose to use them and then their taxes rise and other programs are cut to pay for the one form of care that government has chosen to give, and that's not helpful for every family."

Ignatieff isn't the first Liberal leader to promise to create child-care spaces — Jean Chrétien in 1993 and Paul Martin in 2004 both promised to put money into daycare. Both their plans involved negotiating with the provinces and territories to create the spaces. Ignatieff said his plan is designed to be more flexible, with provincial providers applying for the funding to use as they wish.

A news release from the Conservative Party says a 1993-era toddler would be a 20-year-old university student now, having never seen a universal child-care plan. The release also asks whether Ignatieff would continue the $100 a month cheques for parents. Ignatieff said Thursday they would continue.