What Happened?

The Conservative government announced the Universal Child Care Benefit as part of its 2006 budget: $1,200 per child, per year, paid to families. The program will cost $3.7 billion over two years. For Ottawa, it's more expensive per year than the former federal Liberal government's $5-billion Early Learning and Child Care plan, which included a five-year agreement with each province that began in 2005.

This is what was lost: on September 29, 2005, Paul Martin promised British Columbia $633.3 million of the $5 billion. The province agreed to match those funds, for a total of $1.26 billion in new child-care funding for this province alone, from 2005 to 2010.

Under the agreement, parents earning less than $38,000 a year could apply for child-care subsidies. Licensed daycares were eligible for operating and capital funds. Aboriginal and “priority”  communities could apply for special grants, targeted at creating new spaces in high-need communities. Greater access to care for children with special needs, better funding for resource and referral centres, new human-resources strategies, and new early-learning options were part of the plan.

Stephen Harper's government cancelled those commitments.

The Conservative plan includes the $1,200 per child, plus $250 million to develop new child-care spaces beginning in 2007. For an idea of what that will buy, look to the B.C. Liberals' announcement on May 5 that a half-million dollars granted to Little Mountain Neighbourhood House will create 20 new spaces. In other words, the Conservatives' $250 million could potentially create 10,000 new spaces across Canada. That's barely enough for what the Lower Mainland needs.

A universal, fully funded child-care system has been on Canada's national political agenda for about 30 years.