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Facing likely defeat, Clark vows $1B for free daycare to most B.C. parents

'I've always been committed to child care,' Premier says. '…So many questions,' advocate replies, citing six years of pleas for reform.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark announces a $1-billion child care plan during a speech at a luncheon for B.C. Liberal Party women in Vancouver on Wednesday, June 21, 2017.

David P. Ball / Metro

B.C. Premier Christy Clark announces a $1-billion child care plan during a speech at a luncheon for B.C. Liberal Party women in Vancouver on Wednesday, June 21, 2017.

Free child care for most British Columbians is just the latest about-face for embattled B.C. Premier Christy Clark faced with the imminent possibility of losing her government.

If she pulls off a miracle for her B.C. Liberal party in the next four days before a confidence vote, she'll offer free child care to the more than three-quarters of B.C. families that earn less than $60,000 a year — and create 73,000 new daycare spaces in total, she said Wednesday, costing roughly $1 billion.

Clark's vow came Wednesday at a B.C. Liberal women's luncheon held in Vancouver, more than quintupling her previously promised 13,000 daycare spots amidst high costs and extreme waitlists for many families.

"I've always been committed to child care," Clark told reporters after her speech, "because I have lived the nightmare that many mothers have — trying to find a space, to make sure it's high quality, to make sure it's affordable."

Rubbish, countered Sharon Gregson, coordinator of the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C.

"After us promoting the ($10-a-day) plan for six years — the day before the Throne Speech suddenly child care is a vital issue for BC Liberals," she tweeted Wednesday. "So many questions: why did she fight against the ($10-a-day) plan for six years when supporters across B.C. told her child care is in chaos?"

Child care was a central plank in both the New Democrats' and Greens' election platforms, with a $10-a-day program promised within ten years and billions of investments in spaces under the opposition party's post-election cooperation pact. They hope the Lieutenant Governor will offer them a chance to lead the province if they can win a confidence vote, as is customary in our political system.

"We are competing with another plan that would happen over 10 years," Clark said. Her party's new promise, she countered, would happen over just four.

And that child care would be completely free for families earning less than $60,000 a year, the majority of taxpayers in B.C.; more than 70 per cent of income-earning British Columbians make less than $50,000, or nearly 2.5 million people, according to Statistics Canada data.

And for those earning between $60,000 and $100,000 would be "eligible for partial subsidies," she told reporters. "Over time, as we can afford it, we can raise that" subsidy threshold, she hinted.

The vow could be shortlived, however, as her government faces a confidence vote in the Legislature within four days of a non-confidence motion on its Thursday Throne Speech. Unless a member of the proposed New Democrat-Green confidence pact jumps ship, for example, the child care plan is likely to never see the light of day unless there's a new election soon.

But, she told the earlier luncheon audience, "No one wants another election … they just want us to get down to work."

When asked if she was prepared to promise the same child care investment if there's a new election in the next several years, she replied, "or sooner, if the Lieutenant Governor decides to thrust us into an election sooner."

"Elections are about listening to people," Clark added. "… I think the best path to stability is to have (Thursday's) confidence motion approved, recognizing it includes ideas from all of the parties."

Correction (June 26): An earlier version of this story said there are 10 days of debate before a non-confidence vote. In fact, Legislature rules stipulate four days from the introduction of a non-confidence motion, meaning if tabled June 26, a vote could take place June 29, seven days after the Throne Speech. It could, however, be delayed by government-introduced legislation.

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