VANCOUVER — The British Columbia Liberal Party promised Friday to deliver daycare at $10 a day for low-income families if elected.
The announcement means all three of British Columbia's major political parties have now made campaign pledges of free or significantly cheaper child care ahead of the Oct. 24 election.
"If there had to be a silver lining to the pandemic, it's that now it's clear to everybody that child care is an essential service," said Sharon Gregson, spokeswoman for the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC.
"It's clear now to employers and to the business community that child care is integral for people to go to work, particularly women. That is quite a revelation now to have that be so well understood through all layers of society."
Gregson is part of a group called $10aDay that has advocated for universal $10-a-day child care and free child care for families with household incomes under $45,000 since 2011.
There are only enough licensed spaces for 18 per cent of young children and median provincial fees range from $800 a month for preschoolers to $1,000 a month for younger children, the group says.
The NDP began a $10-a-day daycare pilot program after being elected in 2017 and has pledged to expand that program provincewide, while the Greens promised free child care for kids under three and free early childhood education for those aged three and four.
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Friday the party's $10 rate would apply to families with household incomes under $65,000 if the Liberals win the election. There would be a $20 a day rate for families making $90,000 and $30 a day for those over $125,000.
It would cost $1 billion in its first year and a Liberal government would begin implementing it immediately, he said.
The program would also allow parents to apply for child care spaces online through a streamlined system.
"It's not going to be cheap, but it's an investment in our future," Wilkinson said.
Gregson described the pledge as a "huge turn around" for the Liberals, who held government for 16 years before the NDP took power in 2017.
Under the Liberal government, she said fees rose faster than the rate of inflation, the number of new spaces was lower than the birthrate and wages for early childhood educators fell below industry averages.
There were improvements under the New Democrats, including wage stabilization, declining child care fees and more spaces. But there remains "so much" work to do, she said.
"I would never say the NDP had accomplished all our goals, but they had turned things around. So it's a massive change for the B.C. Liberals to now be talking about $10-a-day child care," she said.
The NDP platform says its programs have led to 32,700 families paying $10 a day or less. It promises to exceed its target of 22,000 new child care spaces and expand its wage enhancement program for educators.
Emily Gawlick, executive director of Early Childhood Educators of B.C., said there's a retention and recruitment crisis in the sector driven by low wages and burnout. She'd like to see all parties present a strategy to address that, including committing to a $26 hourly starting wage.
It's also important than any public investment goes to public or non-profit providers, not the for-profit sector, she said.
As an early childhood educator for two decades, Gawlick said she believes access to child care is the right of every child and family.
"I have been in that situation where I have to sit down with a family and say, you know what, I know you're struggling and you don't have enough money to afford this but I have to ask you for your payment upfront," she said.
Those conversations can change the relationship between educators and families, when they should instead be talking about how the child's day went, what they learned, what they explored, she said.
"That's where we want to focus our time and energy," she said.
The campaign trail led NDP Leader John Horgan to the Seaspan Shipyards in North Vancouver on Friday and Green Leader Sonia Furstenau to Nanaimo.
Horgan announced he would launch a B.C. shipbuilding strategy to make sure there's investment in local infrastructure that's needed to win national and international contracts.
“For years, shipbuilding was being outsourced to other countries — leaving B.C. workers and companies behind,” Horgan said in a news release. "Our long-term strategy is about making strategic investments that will keep B.C. shipyards modern and competitive, able to win more contracts and create more jobs.”
Furstenau unveiled her party's plan on a transition to a green economy, including a $1-billion strategic investment fund to support business innovation. The Greens would initiate a program to move oil and gas workers to guaranteed jobs in the green economy and commit B.C. to carbon neutrality by 2045.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2020.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press