OTTAWA — “(We made) a commitment to develop an additional 40,000 high quality and affordable learning spaces each year, rising to 100,000 by 2030.”
— Liberal Party of Canada news release, Sept. 16
As Justin Trudeau announced Monday that a re-elected Liberal government would create up to 250,000 more spaces and cut fees for before- and after-school child-care programs, his party issued a news release that highlighted some of the things the Liberals have already done.
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That included, according to the news release, a commitment to create 40,000 new child care spaces every year, a number the party said would increase to 100,000 by the end of the next decade.
The problem is, the Liberals have never committed to either of those things — at least not publicly.
The Liberal government committed $7.5 billion over 11 years to child care, beginning with $500 million in 2017. That’s set to increase to $870 million annually by 2026 to fund affordable spaces in provinces and territories, as well as child care for Indigenous families both on- and off-reserve.
The money was tied to a national framework on early learning and child care signed by all provinces and territories except Quebec, which already had its own universal child-care system and so was allowed to use its share of the money on slightly different things.
Ottawa then negotiated separate agreements with each province and territory, which involved a transfer of $1.2 billion over three years.
That is where the 40,000 figure comes in.
That is the targeted number of affordable spaces those agreements were meant to create — over three years, not one.
Guy Gallant, a spokesman for the Liberal campaign, said in an email that what the Liberals were really saying in the news release was that those 40,000 new spaces will continue to exist each year — even though it actually claims they committed to creating 40,000 additional spaces each year.
Notably, the French version of the news release says nothing about creating new spaces each year.
That makes more sense, because anything beyond the initial 40,000 spaces would depend upon negotiating new deals with the provinces and territories.
Now, on to the 100,000 new affordable and high-quality daycare spaces by 2030. The Liberals have never made such a promise publicly, although they are now saying it was always meant to be the eventual target.
“Through our Early Learning and Child Care Framework, we are investing billions of dollars to build more spaces and improve quality and affordability,” Gallant said. “These investments rise over time, such that we intend to reach a target of 100,000 new spaces created by 2030.”
That may be their goal, but is it fair to include it in their record of previous commitments on child care?
More importantly, if they are saying this is a commitment they have already made, then can they get it done within the existing spending plan?
Morna Ballantyne, executive director of Child Care Now, said funding for new daycare spaces must be considered an ongoing cost, because you need to keep paying for them every year they are open.
“You have to allocate a certain amount of money the first year, then you have to allocate the same amount the second year and then double that in order to be able to continue to multiply the number of spaces,” Ballantyne said.
The 2017 budget does show the money increasing, most significantly in 2022-23, when it jumps from $550 million to $725 million.
Ballantyne does not think that would be enough — especially when it comes to addressing things like recruiting and retaining early-childhood educators, who receive relatively low pay given the amount of post-secondary education they have to have.
“It has to be ramped up at a significantly higher rate than what (the Liberals’) 2017 budget plan calls for,” she said.
Don Giesbrecht, chief executive of the Canadian Child Care Federation, also said creating 100,000 new spaces would require a bigger federal investment, although he did say there could be some more room in the next round of agreements now that some “one-off” capital projects are done.
Monica Lysack, a professor of early-childhood education at Sheridan College west of Toronto, said one of the problems is that it can be hard to measure how much it costs to create an affordable child-care space, and just as difficult to track them after the fact.
That is one reason Lysack said the child-care sector is welcoming the additional Liberal promise, overshadowed by the flashier one Monday, to create a new national secretariat on child care, which would be a focal point for policy development, oversight and accountability.
When asked whether the 100,000 new spaces would be covered by the $7.5 billion already committed, Gallant noted that money runs out in fiscal 2027-28, but that the funding would continue beyond that — getting them to 2030.
So, again, the statement that the Liberals have already committed to this as part of their past record is based on a lot of things that could only really happen in the fairly distant future.
For that reason, the claim by the Liberals earns a rating of “a lot of baloney” — the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth.
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Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press