MONTREAL - Quebec's new premier says she plans to complete a project she launched 15 years ago and wants to bring low-cost public daycare to every Quebec family that wants it.
Premier Pauline Marois, who as education minister in 1997 introduced the landmark public daycare program, promised Monday to iron out its flaws within four years.
The famous $7-a-day daycare program is plagued by a shortage of available spaces and, for many families, getting off the waiting list remains an illusory dream.
Marois says the shortages could have been fixed years ago, had the previous Liberal government made it a priority.
"The Parti Quebecois government will keep its promise to complete the $7 daycare network within four years," Marois said.
"In keeping with our election promises there will be 250,000 spaces at $7 in order to respond to the demands of Quebec families.
"It will finally be one child, one space."
Her government plans to create 28,000 new spaces — about half of which were promised earlier this year by the previous government, before the provincial election.
She says the project will take four years and eventually cost the province $261 million more per year. Marois says her plan will eventually leave the province with a spot for every child.
That's far from the case today.
The chronic shortages have fed criticism that the program has had an unintended consequence: that of lower-income families, without access to cheap daycare, subsidizing through their tax dollars the daycare spaces snapped up by wealthier Quebecers.
However, the system has its defenders and was found in a recent study to have had clear economic benefits by helping single parents enter the workforce.
A study by economists at different universities concluded that the program added 1.7 per cent to Quebec's GDP in 2008 and brought back $1.50 in tax revenue for the federal and provincial governments, combined, for every $1 spent by Quebec.
In Ottawa, the last Liberal government of Paul Martin was hoping to create a national system based on Quebec's. His plan would only have provided enough federal funding, however, to create a scaled-down version of the Quebec program in other provinces.
The plan was cancelled by the Harper Tories when they took office and replaced by $100-a-month cheques for parents with young children.
Marois said the completion of Quebec's system was a long time coming.
"The network should have been completed many years ago but the political will of the previous government was clearly not there," the Quebec premier said.
"Our government is determined to finish the work we started 15 years ago."