Austin Boyce-Pettes, 5, plays prior to a press conference and signing ceremony as Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos meets with federal-provincial and territorial ministers responsible for “Early Learning and Child Care” in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Ottawa signs child care deal with provinces

OTTAWA — The new national child care deal the Liberal government has signed with the provinces might not be a universal program, but Families Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said it could make way for one later down the road.

“It’s an aspiration and long-term vision that is coherent with universality,” Duclos said Monday after he signed a multilateral agreement with the provinces and territories, excluding Quebec, which decided not to join, and British Columbia, still working through the impact of its recent election.

The Liberal government negotiated the agreement — called the Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework — to set out the parameters for billions in new child care spending unveiled in the 2017 budget: quality, accessibility, affordability, flexibility and inclusivity.

“This agreement will help give more Canadian children the best possible start in life and provide more support to families across our country,” Duclos said. ”This is the start of a vision and aspiration to help all Canadian children and all Canadian families live the fulfilling lives that they want to live and that they expect to live.”

The multilateral framework is meant to pave the way for separate bilateral agreements to be hammered out with the provinces and territories over the next few months, which will allow a total of $1.2 billion to flow into their coffers over the next three years.

That is part of the $7.5 billion the Liberals have promised to spend over a decade on child care, beginning with $500 million this year and increasing to $870 million annually by 2026 in order to fund spaces — or improvements — in provinces and territories, as well as indigenous child care both on and off-reserve.

Quebec, which has had its own universal child care program for 20 years, did not join the framework.

The province wants to keep child care solely within its jurisdiction, but said it supports the general principles and is expected to reach a bilateral deal with the federal government to get its share of the money flowing.

“It’s a good sign that other provinces want to have a system like this because at the end of the day it’s very good for the economy,” said Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.

As The Canadian Press reported last week, the framework stipulates that any new federal funding for child care cannot be used to displace existing money, meaning that it must be put towards creating new subsidized spaces, improving quality or other areas that fall within the guiding principles.

The Liberal government also wants the provinces and territories to prioritize investments in regulated child care for children under six.

Still, Duclos stressed the Liberal government will make flexibility a priority for the bilateral agreements, as provinces and territories will be able to choose which areas they want to focus on in order to meet their needs.

The framework outlined a few of the options that could work their way into the bilateral agreements, such as increasing the number of providers who are certified in early childhood education, making non-traditional options such as day cares with flexible or irregular hours more available, or increasing the number of children from diverse populations, such as recent immigrants and refugees, who have access to programs geared to their needs.

The framework said that governments will have to report annually on their progress.

Don Giesbrecht, CEO of the Canadian Child Care Federation, said he wants to see a move towards child care being affordable and accessible for everyone, because the need extends beyond vulnerable populations.

“Accessing quality child care is an issue that affects families of all types and across all socio-economic statuses,” he said.

— Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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