By Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – Tom Mulcair is poised to nail down next week one of the core planks of the NDP’s 2015 election platform: a plan to create a national, universal, affordable child care program.
The NDP leader is scheduled to unveil the plan Tuesday before embarking on a cross-country tour to promote it.
Party insiders say the objective is to negotiate deals with the provinces to create more child care spaces at an affordable rate that is accessible to all parents – along the lines of Quebec’s $7 a day, universal child care program.
New Democrats are also hoping to use the plan to help brand Mulcair as a father and grandfather who understands the needs of average Canadians and a leader who will actually deliver on promises to provide more day care spaces, unlike the Conservatives and Liberals.
As Mulcair put it earlier this week after meeting with some parents and child care providers: “It’s something that’s been talked about in Ottawa for 30 years; no one’s ever gotten to it …
“In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be rolling out very detailed policy for how we’re going to actually get this done.”
In fact, 12 years after the Liberals first promised a national child care program, Paul Martin’s Liberal government did finally negotiate day care deals with all the provinces in 2005, worth $5 billion over five years. However, the program was snuffed before it could get off the ground when the NDP, which had been propping up Martin’s minority government, joined the Conservatives to topple the government.
Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won the subsequent election and immediately scrapped Martin’s child care program, replacing it with a $100-a-month, universal child care benefit for parents with children under the age of six.
Mulcair said an NDP government would continue paying the child benefit. However, he said it would be up to individual provinces to decide whether to take the benefit into account when determining what rate to charge parents for child care.
While the NDP plan will not impose a single rate on all provinces, Mulcair said the party will “say what we mean by affordable, we’re going to give a very clear indication what that means.”
Ironically, Mulcair’s plan to replicate the Quebec model across the country comes as the province is struggling to reduce the $2-billion cost of its program. The Quebec government has begun indexing its daily child care rate to the annual inflation rate, hiking the fee to $7.30 earlier this month. And it is reportedly considering abandoning the universality principle in favour of a sliding fee scale based on the income of parents.
Whatever changes Quebec makes, Mulcair said child care in the province will still be much less expensive than elsewhere in Canada, where parents are spending as much as $2,000 a month. In any event, he said all provincial governments, including Quebec, would be in less of a financial crunch if the federal government was a partner in funding child care.
Mulcair said the NDP will provide “a very detailed costing” of its plan. He acknowledged it will cost “quite a bit” but said economists who’ve studied Quebec’s program have found that every dollar spent on providing child care pumps $1.78 into the economy in terms of increased productivity and higher economic growth triggered by the increase in women in the workforce.
“So that’s where we have to get Canadians on side, make them understand that, yes, it’s an investment, it’s a long term investment but it’s an investment that pays for itself, more than what it costs,” Mulcair said.
“So it’s actually something we can’t afford not to do.”
– Follow @jmbryden on Twitter