Excitement about a new national child-care program is being tempered in Red Deer by concerns about the Alberta government’s willingness to participate.
“I am hopeful, fingers crossed, that the federal vision will come to pass and not be messed up by the ideology of the provincial government, said Cameron Wiebe, co-owner of the two local Lotsa’Tots Child Care outlets.
A day after the federal plans were announced to start funding child care on a 50-50 basis with provinces and territories so parents pay only $10 a day, per child, in five year’s time — Alberta’s finance minister was already sounding doubtful.
“Our concern would be that there would be a federal national child-care system imposed on the province that may leave Alberta families with very few options,” Travis Toews told Edmonton media in response to Monday’s federal budget.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he would consider the federal plan, but would not support a “cookie-cutter approach” that dictates how all daycares should be run.
Provincial governments in Ontario and New Brunswick also expressed skepticism.
Wiebe suspects “it’s going to be a significantly difficult negotiation” — especially given the different child care models and approaches in different provinces.
But he hopes the national plan will succeed for the sake of parents, who are now paying anywhere from $900 to $1,500 a month for child care in Alberta.
Research has shown that pre-school education is vital to personal development and should, therefore, receive as much government support as K-12 education, added Wiebe.
The Liberal government promised in the 2021 federal budget that $30 billion will be spent over five years to create a national child-care system. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced this investment will help offset the cost of early learning and child-care services and also grow the economy by allowing more women to enter the workforce.
By the end of five years, the cost of child care to parents would be $10 a day per child, nationwide. But this promise requires that the provincial and territorial governments match the federal investment 50/50.
As a result of this new government spending, Freeland said parents should see a reduction of up to 50 per cent in child care fees over the next 18 months.
“We feel this would be a tremendous program for parents, educators and the community,” say the co-executive-directors of Red Deer Child Care, Jennifer Winters and Erin Tibble.
As to whether the province would agree to the bilateral agreement, they are unsure. “From what we’ve seen in reports that have come out since the announcement, it doesn’t look promising,” say the co-directors.
“It is our hope, however, that the provincial government can recognize the overall positive impact that this type of program would have on the entire province.”
Victoria Sopik, CEO of Kids and Company Daycare, which has a Red Deer location, believes the national child-care program would be great boon for many parents, who are now juggling shift-work because they can’t afford care: “They don’t have time to get together as a family… It’s tough.”
While a national child-care program has been promised many times before, Sopik hopes all provincial governments will get on board this time. “In my opinion, the pandemic has showcased how much quality child care is needed in Canada,” with people challenged to do their jobs and home-school their children, she added.
Several groups have already been formed to lobby the Alberta government to support the national child-care plan.