Alberta has started formal talks with the federal government on accessing billions of dollars in funding for a new universal, $10-a-day child-care system.
Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz said in an interview Friday that the province received a term sheet from Ottawa this week that sets out the conditions for formal negotiations.
"Now that we have that term sheet and we have kind of the basics that we need to move forward, those negotiations are underway," she said.
Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced in the April budget that her government was prepared to spend $30 billion over five years to set up a national day-care program aimed at bringing the costs paid by families to $10 a day.
The Alberta government's response to the funding has been tepid. Premier Jason Kenney said the plan would force the province into a "cookie cutter" approach. Finance Minister Travis Toews said Alberta didn't want any conditions attached to accepting funding.
Since then Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Yukon have signed agreements with Ottawa.
Yukon's announcement came on Friday, shortly after Alberta announced a one-year extension of the existing Canada-Alberta Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, which started in 2017.
Schulz called the extension a good start to negotiations on a new deal. With its system of both for-profit and non-profit day-care providers, Schulz said Alberta is looking for flexibility from Ottawa.
"Every province has a different system and a different makeup in terms of what's offered to parents and families," she said. "And so we're going to continue to work to get that flexibility. But we are absolutely committed to supporting access to affordable, high quality, safe child care for working parents here in Alberta."
'Bait and switch,' says Notley
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said the government is stalling on reaching an agreement with Ottawa and accused Schulz of using Friday's extension announcement as a "bait and switch" tactic.
She said the governments need to step up for Alberta families.
"Every day that the UCP delay signing an agreement with Ottawa equates to leaving $1.1 million on the table every day for families," Notley said at a news conference in a Grande Prairie day care.
"That works out to about $800 in lost savings per month per child or on average $9,600 per year."
The NDP leader argued the savings could lead to spending that would stimulate the economy.
Affordable day care could allow more women to re-enter the workforce and help with labour shortages, Notley said.
Delaying an agreement could put Alberta at a disadvantage as families may choose to move to provinces that offer $10-a-day day care, she added.
In January 2020, the UCP government decided not to continue the $25-a-day child-care pilot launched by the then-NDP government in 2017.
Notley blamed Kenney for not understanding the reality of child-care costs and for having a narrow view about what is truly needed to get the economy moving.
Schulz said she knows how important child care is to economic recovery and is committed to reaching an agreement.
"But we do have to make sure that whatever we're doing, we are really addressing the needs of Alberta working families and that we're using what we already know, both from the pilot (project), from our advisory group, from our working groups, and from what parents and operators have told us," she said.
"I'm looking for real solid policy that's going to make an actual difference in the day-to-day lives of working families and kids."