TORONTO — Canada has struck a $3.5 billion deal with four provinces and two territories that will help cover the cost of child care in the event the federal Liberals lose power, as well as create a $5.2 billion fund for preschoolers.
The agreement, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday, comes one week before the federal election. Canada’s Atlantic Provinces Economic Council says about 20 percent of the children in the region need assistance to get the most out of their schooling. The dispute with child-care advocates in Atlantic Canada is a further blow to the Liberals, who also are lagging behind in support polls before the campaign starts.
While provinces have approved the two-year deal, they must take a second vote before going into effect on Oct. 1. The provinces will have to apply for funding once the agreement takes effect.
Trudeau has already struck deals with provinces such as Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, while remaining in talks with British Columbia and Alberta.
“Our goal is to develop the single, national child-care benefit that provides families with quality, affordable care that helps them get ahead. The experience across the country has shown that to be incredibly important for them and their kids,” Trudeau said.
While the program will include both a universal benefit for families with young children to help meet the basic cost of care, a benefit of up to $7,000 per child under age 6 years old will be offered only in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, three provinces with the greatest concentration of low-income families and child-care needs. It also will cover families in Atlantic Canada, by accepting less than 50 percent of the present subsidy level for that region.
Quebec’s universal benefit of $7,800 per child under 6 will also be unchanged, but will no longer cover those up to age 6. The deal was kept away from Ontario for the same reason.
“We are very disappointed that Ontario did not participate in this,” Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s natural resources minister, said in an interview.
The agreement has special resonance in Atlantic Canada, where a younger generation is scrambling to access public child care.
“The kids are begging me to come pick them up from school,” Nola Shae, a mother of three, said in an interview. “The oldest one wants her mother to pick her up because her daycare has closed. The youngest one said she misses her babysitter.”
Shae has lined up child care in her Halifax suburb, which has proved a challenge for some parents.
She said the same thing has been happening in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where employers have slashed staff over an economic downturn, leaving parents struggling to find child care.
“I am worried about how we are going to keep our staff here,” she said. “A lot of people have been forced to take a second job or to look for work outside of the region. It is a really tough time right now for working parents.”
Some child-care facilities are raising their rates and limiting hours of operation to cope with the cost of care, Shae said.
The national program would come with a $500 million per year cost-share to help governments reach full participation among the lowest-income earners. Other revenue would come from a $4.2 billion per year per-year “youth investment fund” that would allow provinces to add child care for the provinces’ own children.