Federal child-care program may be too ‘cookie cutter’ for Alberta, premier says

Alberta’s United Conservative Party government wants an injection of promised federal child-care funds with no strings attached, the province’s finance minister says.

“Our concern would be that there 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,” Minister Travis Toews told reporters Tuesday as he responded to Monday’s federal budget.

The federal Liberal government pledged $30 billion for a national child-care program over the next five years, but with an expectation that provinces and territories will pitch in matching funds for most of it.

The federal government aims to halve the cost of child-care fees by next year and reduce the cost of child care to $10-a-day by 2026.

The announcement comes one month after the Alberta government terminated the former NDP government’s pilot program that funded $25-a-day child care in select non-profit centres.

In the legislature Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said his government would look at the federal government’s proposal, but said he fears it is too narrow.

“If it is, as it appears to be, a cookie cutter approach — 9-to-5, government run, union operated, largely urban care that excludes shift workers, largely excludes rural people, excludes informal forms of child care, that would not meet the needs of most Albertans,” he said.

Provincial governments in Ontario and New Brunswick have also expressed skepticism about the program.

The Alberta government has said only one in seven families in the province uses licensed child care and that people value choice and flexibility.

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley told reporters the government promoting parent choice is code for failing to adequately fund child care in the province. Parents who can’t afford safe child care have no choices, she said.

Notley said the Alberta government should commit to participating in the national program as soon as possible to get more parents — particularly women — back into the workforce.

“It’s absolutely unquestionably the best investment any government can make in economic recovery,” she said of funding child care.

The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic blows have disproportionately hit women, in a phenomenon known as the “she-cession.” Thousands of women worked in hard-hit industries that laid off workers, and others stayed home to care for children bumped out of shuttered daycares and schools.

Notley said her $25-a-day child-care program was popular, immensely helpful to lower income families and allowed centres to provide high-quality care.

“Our commitment to Albertans is that we will go it alone,” she said of the former provincial program. “There will be no more delays, should we ever have the privilege to form government again.”

The government has said the NDP’s provincial program unfairly excluded privately operated daycare centres and wasn’t means tested.

The UCP government restructured child-care subsidies last year to help further benefit lower-income families.

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