BC Throne Speech 2013: Childcare Advocates Keep Expectations Low

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CHRISTY CLARK CHILDCARE
B.C. childcare advocates remain skeptical about the government's promise to boost the province's childcare.(B.C. Gov) | B.C. Gov

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's government is promising to give province-wide childcare a boost, but the pledge comes hand-in-hand with the premier's criticism of another provincial daycare system that most closely resembles what advocates say is needed.

One day after the throne speech hinted at new measures to come, Premier Christy Clark said that by charging parents a flat $7 fee per day, Quebec's daycare system is far too expensive.

Lobbyists in B.C. have been campaigning for childcare at a rate of $10 per day.

"I think many Quebecers are recognizing that it's unaffordable to provide daycare at the same rate universally to people who are very, very wealthy as to people who are not so wealthy," she told reporters in Victoria on Wednesday.

But Clark went on to say childcare is an important issue for her and that more details of her government's upcoming plans will be revealed closer to the budget next Tuesday.

Advocates like Emily Mlieczko, executive director of the Early Childhood Educators of B.C., said Clark's response was typical under a system where, in her view, children's early years already get short-shrift.

"We understand that this will be a generational shift, that it will take time to implement a full plan," she said in an interview. "But we need a government to take the initiative to move forward and ... have a commitment to developing one."

The campaign for one flat fee has garnered the support of several organizations and thousands of families, including 3,000 who signed postcards encouraging the government to take a closer look leading up to the province's first Family Day. The campaign also calls for free care for families making under $40,000 a year.

But Mlieczko said the scheme has not made any headway with the Ministry of Children and Family Development and so she doesn't expect a reversal any time soon.

The throne speech provided a vague outline of priorities, stating there will be additional measures to support families, such as by improving access and affordability of childcare.

Paul Kershaw, lead facilitator with a group called Generation Squeeze, said he believes the flat-fee campaign has mounted enough pressure to at least get it on the discussion table.

"I think the fact they (the government) have embraced the language of making life more affordable for families with young kids is because they are hearing there is a problem," he said.

But he suggested the potential measures he's heard could be coming — such as changes to the subsidy made available to people who qualify as "working poor" — miss the point.

"They're failing to see it's an entire generational issue. We need to win that in order for them to really embrace the policy recommendations that we're putting forward," he said.

According to the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, annual childcare costs between $9,000 and $14,000 for a two year old, depending on the city. The union has said there is only one licensed daycare space for every five children.

Childcare policy expert Martha Friendly, who runs the Childcare Resource and Research Unit in Toronto, said no province has the right formula yet.

"No province has a plan, a policy framework of 'here's what we're trying to do, here's where we want to go, here's how long we're going to take, here's our targets and timetables, here's the best evidence,'" she said.

Instead, B.C. and other provinces are operating a patchy system that has asked the commercial market to provide the answers.

"It's like a dog's breakfast and it's kind of covered over with regulations ... and then some funding, which really doesn't do the trick," she said.

Friendly said she personally doesn't believe the flat-fee system is best and instead would advocate for a sliding scale.

But more important is that the government exerts political will to create a comprehensive plan in the first place, she said.

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