News / Vancouver

Throne Speech vows 'largest investment in child care in B.C. history'

B.C. Premier John Horgan said in a statement following Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon's speech that, "We know when we invest in child care, everyone benefits."

Premier John Horgan and Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon meet on the steps of Legislature before the speech from the throne in the legislative assembly in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, February 13, 2018.

CHAD HIPOLITO / The Canadian Press

Premier John Horgan and Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon meet on the steps of Legislature before the speech from the throne in the legislative assembly in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, February 13, 2018.

British Columbia's government has pledged what it's calling the greatest investment ever in daycare for increasingly cash-strapped families on Tuesday.

In the year's first Speech from the Throne — which opens every Legislature sitting and is read by the Lieutenant Governor — the NDP laid out its vision: a province where life is easier for families "working paycheque to paycheque … anxious and uncertain about the future because no matter how hard they work they don’t seem to get ahead," Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon read.

Key to that, the speech noted, are making child care and housing affordable. And though Tuesday's Throne Speech was typically short on details or price tags, it hints at the thrust of next week's budget.

Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon delivers the speech from the throne from the Legislative Assembly at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, February 13, 2018.

Chad Hipolito / The Canadian Press

Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon delivers the speech from the throne from the Legislative Assembly at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, February 13, 2018.

Child care has been a challenge facing many in B.C.; Vancouver is second-costliest in the country, and 95 per cent of its facilities have wait lists, one-in-five of those charging waiting fees, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report in December.

Then there are the climbing costs: Vancouver leads B.C.’s list with a median $1,360 monthly fee for infants, $1,292 for toddlers. It's followed by Burnaby at $1,250 a month for infants, $1,200 for toddlers. Surrey and Richmond are close behind, while Richmond’s preschool fees rose 12 per cent last year, the most dramatic increase in Canada.

The Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. have called the situation “child care chaos” — they want a $2.5-billion, $10-a-day program like Quebec’s (in Montreal, average monthly daycare costs are just $168).

And in January, the family of a 16-month-old boy who died in an unlicensed child care facility last year marked the first anniversary of Macallan's death. The tragedy brought attention to how daycare is licensed and regulated in B.C. — and severe space shortages even for families who can afford the steep price tag.

The January 2017 death of “Baby Mac,” shared by his mother Shelley Sheppard on Facebook, galvanized long-standing calls for reforms to British Columbia’s overloaded and underfunded child care system — calls that went unheeded in the nascent B.C. NDP government’s first budget update last fall, disappointing some advocates.

But a key missing piece of Tuesday's speech was any mention of how much child care would ideally cost B.C. families — and certainly no $10-a-day target as proposed by advocates.

“Mac died on his second full day at this day care and it was entirely preventable,” Sheppard wrote last April. “I placed my beautiful, perfect boy and my misplaced trust into a day care and he was killed … I speak for Mac and for all of the children in our beautiful British Columbia … let us strive to be better.”

Horgan had hinted last week to reporters that his government's first throne speech Tuesday will prioritize affordability issues like child care.

Children attend a United Way of the Lower Mainland families event in Surrey.

David P. Ball / Metro

Children attend a United Way of the Lower Mainland families event in Surrey.

But despite pledging $10-a-day in the 2017 election, the minority B.C. NDP’s governing pact with the Greens made only vague, uncosted promises to "invest in child care and early childhood education."

Premier John Horgan said in a statement following Guichon's speech that, "We know when we invest in child care, everyone benefits. Government has also announced today that we will make significant investments to make sure families have access to safe, quality and affordable child care."

Included in those measures, the throne speech hinted, would be significant funding for new licensed child care spaces — but also the "conversion" of existing but currently unlicensed spaces.

"Careers are put on pause and family incomes fall because child care is not available for them," Guichon read. "Past governments have not helped parents find child care they need to move their lives forward.

"This year B.C. will turn the corner, while the journey ahead will take time, B.C. is now firmly headed down the path … Safe, affordable, licensed child care will become B.C.’s standard."

The "single purpose" behind the reforms will be to "propel the conversion of unlicensed spaces to licensed" ones and "regulating child care so more parents can benefit from the savings government is providing," the speech revealed.

For Oak Bay, B.C. councillor and parent Michelle Kirby, the speech's extensive focus on child care was cause for celebration.

"Thrilled to see child care as priority in a Throne Speech!" she tweeted. "Finally, after decades of child care advocacy, many mothers and grandmothers can celebrate victory!"

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