Lag in B.C. Child Care Funding

Vaughn Palmer: Vancouver Sun - Premier ducks questions on lag in B.C. child-care funding

Opinion: David Eby would rather media focus on the broader picture than asking about his broken promises

VICTORIA — Premier David Eby ducked a question this week about why his government is lagging so far behind Ottawa in funding child care spaces in B.C.

The funding gap was disclosed in last week’s provincial budget.

It showed B.C. was providing only 15 per cent of the new funding for child care at a time when the province is lagging well behind the targets in the NDP government’s 10-year plan for providing $10-a-day care.

Overall, there was $252 million in new funding for child care spaces in B.C. for the financial year starting April 1. The federal government provided most of it: $214 million, with just $38 million from the province.

Why isn’t B.C. keeping up? Eby was asked during a news conference Monday.

But the premier wouldn’t acknowledge, never mind explain, the funding gap that was documented in his own government’s budget.

Instead, he segued into a talking point about the B.C. NDP government drive to get Ottawa’s attention when it comes dispensing funding for cost-shared programs.

“We’re going to make sure that we get our fair share from Ottawa when it comes to child care funding or any other funding,” vowed Eby.

“I’m glad the federal government contributions have finally caught up to ours.”

Caught up?

That was last year when two levels of government funded child care in B.C. on a roughly 50-50 split: $822 million from Ottawa, $827 million from the province.

The federal government will break the billion-dollar mark and provide $1.036 billion for child care in B.C. in the coming year. The provincial share is budgeted to lag $170 million behind, at $865 million.

Nor is the gap a one-year thing. Over the next three years, the federal government will pour $3.4 billion into child care in B.C., the province $2.6 billion, a quarter less than the federal share.

The New Democrats are so far behind on delivering child care, they passed a cabinet order earlier this month to push millions of dollars in unspent federal funding to next year because they haven’t been able to use the money this year.

No wonder the federal government prefers to attach strings to any funding it provides to cost-shared programs with the provinces.

Still, without the increased federal contributions, child care funding would be stalled here in B.C.

“Thank goodness for the federal spending,” as child care advocate Sharon Gregson put it after the provincial budget was released. “There’s been very minimal increases in the provincial spending.”

Gregson was instrumental in persuading the New Democrats to incorporate $10 a day child care into their 2017 election platform. The promise was likely a factor in the NDP breakthrough in ridings in and around Metro Vancouver.

To her credit, Gregson has kept at the government, reminding New Democrats of the yawning gap between what they promised and what they’ve delivered.

“We need more $10-a-day (spaces), frankly, in every single community across the province,” she told interviewer Rob Fai on CKNW this week.

“Right now, of all the child care that we have, only about 10 per cent of it is operating at a $10 a day site.

“So we’ve got a lot to do in the few years that are remaining in the 10-year plan.”

Currently there are 146,000 “provincially funded licensed child care spaces in operation” according to the service plan for the ministry of state for child care, released last week. About 14,000 of those are $10-a-day.

The service plan calls for adding another 6,000 spaces over the next three years. In the unlikely event that each met year the $10-a-day standard, the New Democrats would still be well short of the goal of universality.

When the premier was asked about that part of the NDP’s credibility gap on child care, he suggested that maybe there was a disproportionate amount of “focus on the $10 a day.”

Rather he wished people would recognize the government’s good intentions.

“We’ve driven down child care costs by literally hundreds of dollars for B.C. families,” he told reporters. “I’ve seen that first hand.”

Dang that pesky news media. Asking a premier to account for his promises instead of seeing the broader picture.

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