The kids are alright: Affordable child care the big winner in B.C. NDP's first budget
Province redirects $1B to create 22,000 daycare spaces, with new child care benefit making it free for families earning up to $45,000 before tax and subsidies for others
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Child care, as expected, was the big-ticket item as B.C. NDP unveiled their economic plans Tuesday, releasing its first full budget since coming to power.
It pumps $1 billion into 22,000 new daycare spaces over the next three years, and creates a new affordable child care benefit, effectively making the program free for any household earning up to $45,000 before tax and subsidizing others up to $111,000.
"These include historic investments in child care … that will be felt for generations," finance minister Carole James said in a statement.
A new affordable child care benefit for lower-income families will offset fees by up to $1,250 per month per child for 86,000 families over three years. And B.C. will offer subsidies to licensed daycare operators up to $350 a month to reduce fees for what B.C. estimates are 50,000 families over three years.
Starting this September, households earning up to $45,000 before tax can apply to get their entire fees back "up to the cost of care," and families earning up to $111,000 can get partial subsidies tied to their incomes.
The hints were obvious: James opted to kick Canada's tried-and-true Budget Day shoe-shopping tradition to the curb — instead breaking that script by reading a kids' story about resilience, persistence and multicolour footwear in a Victoria daycare Monday.
Some say the throne speech is a narrated version of the budget it preceeds. Is "Pete the Cat," who keeps on walking even as his shoes turn from white to technicolour, the budget's full-colour illustrated version?
"It's truly historic," accountant and economic analyst Lynell Anderson told Metro in a phone interview. "Not just its historic financial investment, but also historic in what it seeks to accomplish.
"It brings in an affordable, high-quality, available child care system that can work across the province and address the needs of families, early childhood educators, but also employers."
Anderson co-authored a 59-page economic study for the Early Childhood Educators of B.C. last year estimating the benefits of a long-proposed B.C. $10-a-day plan included a 2.8-per cent boost to the employment rate and billions in gross domestic province gains.
The $1-billion child care funding was lauded by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, too.
"Benefits of up to $1,250 per month per child will help to improve the Greater Vancouver region’s ability to attract human capital," the organization said in a statement. "This has been an area of concern to our members, and thus we applaud this."
That employers are cheering came as no surprise to Anderson.
"I've been part of three economic studies on a $10-a-day plan," she explained, "all of them show when we invest in high-quality, affordable child care we not only have social benefits but also strong econmoic benefits.
"There's benefits in the short-term with improved labour market participation … We've estimated those savings at around $600 million a year. But in the long term, we're supporting children's early development — that improves life-long learning. In the long term, healthier children become healthier adults."
The province called it, in a budget document, "the path to universal child care." It also aims "to increase the recruitment and retention of Early Childhood Educators, with training bursaries and other strategies," something Anderson is a seldom-addressed but crucial component of ensuring a high-quality system, not just a low-cost one. And it creates "start-up grants to unlicensed family providers to become licensed."
Another hint came Tuesday morning, and the government couldn't have been more obvious where the money would flow:
"What a great way to start #Budget2018 Day," wrote children and families minister Katrine Conroy on Twitter, alongside a photo of some of the province's leading daycare advocates, "with a group of passionate and dedicated advocates for affordable quality #childcare in BC. Thanks for all your hard work and commitment."
The government had promised hope for struggling families was on the way in last Tuesday's throne speech, pledging what it called the greatest investment ever in daycare.
"This year B.C. will turn the corner," Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon had read. "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."
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.
"There's a bit of a sliding-scale approach to support families at lower- and middle- income end," Anderson said of the newly announced subsidies for providers and parents, "and it actually makes it free for low-income families."
The Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. have called the situation “child care chaos” — they still want a $2.5-billion, $10-a-day program like Quebec’s (in Montreal, average monthly daycare costs are just $168).
Not all were fans of the budget, however, with big spending on affordability underwritten by more than $5-billion in tax increases.
"Make no mistake," wrote Global Public Affairs' Rebecca Scott, the company's director of public affairs, in a tweet Tuesday afternoon. "These taxes will squeeze British Columbia's middle class. This is FAR from creating affordability for all."
The NDP haven't said when of if they will reach a $10-a-day target, but daycare advocates were singing the budget's praises Tuesday.
And as Carol James read from Pete the Cat just a day before, it's expected they'll keep walking along and singing their song as the funding begins to flow.
"We are very happy," Anderson agreed. "We're happy on behalf of the families, communities and employers who've been calling for this really important investment for so long."