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Liberals pledge $30B in 2021 budget for childcare with eye to reducing fees

Last Updated Apr 19, 2021 at 4:56 pm EDT

The Peace Tower is pictured on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 25, 2021, as lawmakers return to the House of Commons following the winter break. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The federal government is diving into the deep end of child care, promising billions in new spending for provinces to create spaces and drive down fees.

The Liberals’ 2021 budget doesn’t commit or estimate how many new spaces could be created by the spending, focusing instead on the cost to parents.

The plan would aim to see an average drop in fees next year by 50 per cent for preschooler daycare spaces that last year ranged from about $451 per month in Winnipeg to $1,250 a month in Toronto.

Eventually, the Liberals aim to have an average fee of $10 a day across the country outside of Quebec, which has its own system.

The proposal addresses calls not only from advocates but from business groups as well, to help thousands of mothers return to the labour force after their numbers dwindled due to daycare closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says in her budget speech the plan won’t deliver instant gratification, noting it is a long-term strategy that will take countrywide effort to invest in children and young parents.

“I make this promise to Canadians today, speaking as your finance minister and as a working mother: We will get it done,” she says in the advance text of her speech.

Spending would start at just over $3 billion a year, not taking into account the government’s pre-existing 10-year spend on child care unveiled four years ago.

Funding rises from there to reach almost $8.4 billion in new spending annually by 2026. The budget projections stop at that point, after what the document describes as an initial five-year agreement designed to have the federal government cover half of national child-care funding.

The first five years will focus on support for not-for-profit providers, leaving out for-profit centres and unregulated care.

After that, the budget says the government will work with provinces and territories to revisit funding needs based on what the money has purchased to that point.

“This is going to be an enduring investment in making it possible for parents, and especially women to participate in the labour force,” Freeland said at a news conference.

“I really do not want to understate either the complexity and the difficulty of building early-learning and child care, nor to understate how transformational this will be for women, for all parents, for children and for the Canadian economy.”

The budget also commits $34.5 million more to a federal secretariat that is guiding policy work inside the government, and the creation of a national advisory council to highlight needs, concerns and issues in the sector.

And it also promises legislation by the fall to enshrine the spending into law so it cannot be easily undone or watered down by a change in government or cabinet priorities.