Manitoba's $10-a-day child-care plan starts in April — 3 years ahead of schedule

Manitoba committed to reaching an average of $10 per day for child care fees by 2026 but hit the target three years early.  (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)
Manitoba committed to reaching an average of $10 per day for child care fees by 2026 but hit the target three years early. (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)

Starting April 2, Manitoba families will pay a maximum of $10 a day in fees at regulated non-profit child-care centres, Premier Heather Stefanson announced on Friday.

That's three years ahead of the 2026 target and applies to all children age 12 and under.

"Access to affordable and high-quality child care is essential for Manitobans to be able to participate in the workforce, support their family and play an active role in the growth of our communities and our economy," Stefanson said.

The announcement, which the Manitoba premier made alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Fermor Avenue YMCA-YWCA in Winnipeg on Friday, is "a significant milestone," she said.

The reduced cost will save families thousands of dollars per year, said Stefanson.

"That is money that can go directly towards groceries, paying the bills or saving for our children's future."

Manitoba signed on to the Canada-wide early learning and child care agreement with the federal government in August 2021.

Once Manitoba's new fees start in April, nearly half of Canada's provinces and territories will have $10/day regulated child care, while fees have been cut by at least 50 per cent in all other jurisdictions aiming to get there by March 2026.

For those who still struggle with the $10 price, Manitoba's child-care subsidy program will continue to provide financial support, further reducing those fees, Stefanson said, "ensuring cost is not a barrier to quality early-learning programming."

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

The lower cost means nothing, however, if there aren't spaces available for parents to put their children. Trudeau said he will encourage Manitoba to create those, including spaces in rural and Indigenous communities.

Stefanson said the province has already announced a plan to add 23,000 more spaces by 2026.

"We recognize there's more work to be done — that's why we're moving in that direction," she said. "We will be opening up new child care centres as well."

Current workforce 'revolving door'

Another key part is having professionals to staff the spaces, said provincial Education and Early Childhood Learning Minister Wayne Ewasko, and that's why the province has also announced a plan to expand post-secondary training options for early learning and child care professionals.

"While recruitment is a key part of the strategy, we really cannot talk about recruitment without fixing the retention problem," Jodie Kehl, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, said during a Friday interview with CBC's Up to Speed.

The province is making good steps in the right direction, but Kehl said an estimated 5,500 additional staff would be needed to cover the 23,000 new spots.

She compared the current workforce to "a revolving door," and current early learning and child care workers need to be prioritized for any system building efforts to work, she said.

It needs to be well known to the public that those that are interested in doing the incredible work of early childhood educators will be compensated fairly and competitively. - Jodie Kehl, executive director of Manitoba Child Care Association

Child care workers are sometimes viewed as underpaid, which doesn't attract students to fill seats in post-secondary programs, said Kehl.

"It needs to be well known to the public that those that are interested in doing the incredible work of early childhood educators will be compensated fairly and competitively."

An expression of interest has been issued that will let post-secondary institutions apply for funding to develop new training programs, said Ewasko. The goal is to add 1,000 child care assistants and 2,000 early childhood educators by 2026.

The expression of interest deadline is March 31, after which the province will start the selection process.

Flooding fix

Earlier on Friday, Trudeau said the federal government is working to prevent future flooding in Manitoba communities like Peguis First Nation, where more than 900 evacuees remain out of their homes since last spring.

It's not the first time the largest First Nation community in Manitoba has had to be evacuated because of flooding. It also happened in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2014.

Each time, it causes millions of dollars in damage to homes and critical infrastructure in the community, about 160 kilometres north of Winnipeg. About $24 million has been spent since 2006, but it is largely on recovery and reactionary efforts, not proactive protection.

Cameron MacIntosh/CBC
Cameron MacIntosh/CBC

"We know that we cannot keep doing this. We need to make sure that the community is safe," Trudeau told host Marcy Markusa during a Friday interview with CBC Manitoba's Information Radio.

He said his government is in discussions with Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson about what is needed.

Hudson and other First Nations leaders have called on the federal and provincial governments for permanent flood protection.

A study completed in 2008 identified four options for Peguis: Holding back water upstream, building a diversion channel, raising homes up on mounds or building dikes along either side of the Fisher River or around clusters of homes.

A ring dike is not an option, given the linear layout of the community, where homes are built along both sides of the Fisher River and stretch out for kilometres.

A series of dikes would cost about $90 million, Hudson has said, while a diversion channel to direct the water around the community, like Winnipeg's floodway, would cost about $50 million.

"We are absolutely looking at future-proofing communities right across the country, particularly vulnerable Indigenous communities. We know that the people in Peguis have faced extraordinary difficulty," Trudeau said on Friday.

Pressed about whether he would commit to something now, he would only say Ottawa "is working very, very closely" with the community.

He was also asked if he feels a sense of responsibility for Peguis's plight. The community was uprooted from its original settlement on prime farmland around present-day Selkirk and forced to relocate to a flood zone in the early 1900s.

"Absolutely," Trudeau said. "The federal government, in so many cases, whether it's residential schools, whether it's forcible displacement and relocation, whether it's any range of things … has repeatedly over the past generations and centuries failed in its responsibility to be true partners in respect with Indigenous peoples.

"We have a lot of work to rebuilt that trust and respect."