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Rob Shaw: BC United pitches cash subsidies as $10 child care remains elusive

Kevin Falcon makes multimillion-dollar pledge to revolutionize child-care spaces
BC United's Kevin Falcon proposes direct cash subsidies for affordable child care

Could frustrated parents, tired of waiting for the NDP to make good on its promise of $10-a-day child care, be lured away to another party by the offer of generous cash subsidies?

It’s a gamble BC United has made in its latest election policy plank — a multimillion-dollar pledge of direct financial assistance for daycare spaces.

United Leader Kevin Falcon unveiled the idea Thursday. It would have been better timed for the election campaign, but the beleaguered United party needs to hit a couple homeruns on the policy front right now to try and turn the page from two defections to the BC Conservatives in the last week.

“I want all the parents out there struggling with unaffordable daycare to understand this: We are going to fix this problem immediately,” said Falcon.

“Because at the rate we're going, all of their children, all of their kids, will be graduating high school by the time those spaces are in place under the NDP government. What we need now is action and results.”

Targeting the $10-a-day system is smart because it is both popular with the public and a weak spot of the governing BC NDP.

After seven years in power, only 10 per cent of the almost 150,000 child-care spaces in B.C. are truly $10-a-day. Many are still full pay, at an average of around $1,200 a month. Others are part of a byzantine system of income-tested government fee reductions, benefits and applications for both parents and providers, the complexities of which make doing your own taxes look simple.

That was not the promise of the 10-year rollout for $10-a-day child care in the 2017 election that brought the NDP to power.

“There's been a betrayal of trust,” said Falcon. “A lot of people voted for the [NDP] back in 2017 because they promised $10-a-day daycare.

“We’ve got to level the playing field now. And we're going to do it by providing direct subsidies to those 90 per cent that are still struggling with an average of $1,200 a month.”

Under the United plan, a family with a $1,200 a month daycare space would get $1,000 back directly from the government, so that they don’t pay any more than $10 a day.

The money would flow within 90 days of forming government and the subsidies would be income-tested, said Falcon.

“I do not want Jimmy Pattison’s grandchildren getting subsidized,” said Falcon, referencing the B.C. billionaire. “But I want that [income] level to be high, because … there’s a lot of expenses that families are already suffering. So we do want to provide that relief directly.”

The plan would be accompanied by new partnerships with public and private daycares, expansion of child-care spaces into new hospitals and schools, and a new no-fee central wait list for parents to find spaces. Falcon said the goal is to pay the subsidies so enough true $10-a-day spaces are created.

B.C. New Democrats mocked the idea.

“This is just not credible,” said Minister of State for Child Care Mitzi Dean.

“Kevin Falcon [and BC Conservative Leader John Rustad] slashed child-care subsidies — and now he’s been calling for spending cuts, not new investments. And this announcement has no costing at all. They would cut child care, not invest in it. Just like before.”

United did not provide a cost. But if the more than 130,000 child-care spaces in B.C. that aren’t currently part of the $10-a-day system required a full $1,000 monthly subsidy, the program could cost more than $130 million a month.

The NDP have blamed a lack of early childhood educators and facility construction for slow progress on $10-a-day. The government has slowed provincial spending and let Ottawa do the heavy financial lifting. B.C. can’t even spend all of Ottawa’s money, it is so far behind. The government has also changed its 2017 promise for “universal” $10-a-day for everyone, to an “average” of $10-a-day for some parents.

Falcon blamed the NDP for focusing on trying to create a government-run child-care system of public facilities that shut down private operators. “Because of that, they are grossly inefficient,” he said. “And that’s why there are 10,000 [spaces] less today than there were just five short years ago.”

On its own, the child-care platform plank won’t be enough to get United out of the polling basement and the risk of more Conservative defections. But it’s a start. A few more of these and perhaps the party can ignite some sort of spark in the mind of voters.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 16 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

[email protected]

Updated June 10, 2024, to clarify costing.