Sue Delanoy says the province has an opportunity to revamp child-care with newly announced federal money — if the plan comes to fruition.
The federal government announced in its budget Monday that $30 billion over five years will be set aside to create a national child-care system.
The government's stated goal is to decrease child-care costs to $10 a day per child — nationwide — within five years, which is significantly less than what most working parents currently pay in all jurisdictions except Quebec.
"This occasion really has marked a historic turning point, I think, for Saskatchewan's children, and parents, and women [and] those working in the child-care service," said Delanoy, former executive director of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada and the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan.
Delanoy, now retired, has spent decades advocating for better child-care in the province after her own struggles finding child care when she was working.
"It's no surprise, and it's quite scandalous actually, that Saskatchewan does not have one of the best child-care systems across Canada," she said.
The province has one of the lowest number of child-care options per family in the country, she said.
"I think it's an opportunity for us to really reimagine what this would look like and to take a really close look at the Quebec system."
The median monthly cost of daycare in 2020 was $810 in Saskatoon and $675 in Regina, according to the budget. The most expensive is in Toronto at $1,578 and the least expensive is $181 in Quebec City.
Delanoy said there are a lot of kids in the province who are in a form of unlicensed care, which isn't necessarily bad. But a national child-care initiative would provide a wider range of opportunities for kids and families, she said.
"We need programs that are not only accessible, which may include special needs placements, but it will be affordable, finally, and inclusive for children."
Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the child-care program will take some time to materialize because child care mainly falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, so Ottawa will need to negotiate with governments at that level.
She said provinces and territories would also have to chip in financially.
Initiative also aimed at helping women in the workforce
The government's goal is also to make life more affordable and drive economic growth by drawing more women into the workforce through more child-care support.
The federal government estimates at least 16,000 women are out of the job market entirely because of the pandemic, while the male labour force has grown by 91,000 over the same period.
Delanoy said that many mothers have dropped out of work because they couldn't find accessible child care.
"It really does solve a lot of problems for families," she said.
"I do think it's going to really help bring about a better, fairer and a faster economic recovery — even though I do recognize that, you know, the federal debt is huge," said Delanoy.
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has indicated his party would oppose the child care initiative as it is, saying child care is a provincial responsibility and premiers should take the lead.
"This is one area where we'll be proposing amendments and ever better policies," he said. "I'd prefer letting parents be in the driver's seat and giving options to all Canadian families.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper ended a previous funding agreement in 2006 for a national child-care system, opting instead to send cheques to parents with young children
Deficit and debt
O'Toole has also expressed concerns about the country's projected deficit and debt.
The federal deficit is projected to be $354.2 billion in 2020-21 and $154.7 billion in 2021-22, while gradually declining to $30.7 billion in 2025-26, which means the country's debt is predicted to be $686.1 billion between now and 2025-26.
O'Toole said he has "real concerns" about the budget's debt and deficit projections.
"It seems there is not a fiscal anchor in this plan," he said.
"It's almost like a floating anchor all depending on a massive debt and no clear plan to actually see economic growth, with risks of inflation on the horizon, no plan for large sectors of our economy, no serious plan to help save the tens of thousands of small businesses hanging on by a thread."
The budget includes $101.4 billion in new spending over three years to fuel the recovery and kick-start the transition to a green economy.