EDMONTON - Alberta has signed on to Ottawa’s $10-a-day child-care program, but not before Premier Jason Kenney dismissed the federal contribution as recycled provincial money and accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of playing favourites.
“This agreement means bringing 3.8 billion tax dollars paid by Albertans to Ottawa back to Albertans to address a key priority for so many families,” Kenney, with Trudeau at his side, said Monday during an event at a downtown YMCA.
The United Conservative premier accused Trudeau of playing favourites by giving Quebec a child-care deal with more flexibility, while Alberta had to fight to get what it considered a fair bargain for its mix of care providers. More than half of current care spaces in Alberta are in privately run businesses.
“It’s not the only time where we see what appears to be a two-tier federation,” said Kenney.
“The basic aspiration of Albertans is to be treated equally, to have the same powers that Quebec exercises and the same treatment from the federal government, which includes unconditional funding when there are national policy goals.”
That comment prompted Trudeau to take to the podium to stress that Quebec was not getting sweetheart treatment.
He said Quebec’s plan already met the goals of the federal program and, in fact, exceeded them with $8.50-a-day child care.
“It made no sense for us to impose conditions (on Quebec) that they’ve already surpassed,” said Trudeau. “It’s not about treating one province differently.
“If Alberta already had child care at $8 a day across the province, we would have had an approach similar to Quebec, so let’s not create constitutional conventions out of this.”
Kenney has often criticized the Liberal federal government for treating Alberta unfairly in Confederation. He has said that Albertans contribute generously to the rest of Canada through equalization yet are stymied at times by federal policies that restrict development of the province's oil and gas industry.
The bilateral deal is to provide $3.8 billion in federal funding over the next five years. Child-care fees are to be halved starting next year and reduced to an average of $10 a day by 2026.
The deal also calls for the creation of 42,500 new regulated early-learning and child-care spaces.
"Within five years, $10-a-day child care will be a reality right across the province,” said Trudeau.
"This will make a huge difference in the lives of all families but also in our economic recovery.”
Choice of child care had been a sticking point in negotiations between Ottawa and Alberta.
Kenney said the Alberta agreement will make the subsidies eligible for all types of licensed facilities for child care up to age six.
"The province has secured a deal to allow Alberta parents to have the type of child care that works best for them, which has been a key element of any deal this government would sign,” he said.
The agreement is to fund services and grow the workforce for early childhood teachers.
The money is also to support child care for children with disabilities or special needs as well as a plan to work with Indigenous organizations to develop child-care programs best suited to their needs.
The federal government has completed bilateral $10-a-day care deals with nine provinces and territories. Ontario, New Brunswick, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have yet to sign on.
Trudeau’s government announced the $30-billion, five-year plan in the spring as a cornerstone in an initiative to help families and get the economy moving.
Rakhi Pancholi, the Alberta Opposition's children’s services critic, said the deal is similar to what the NDP caucus proposed in July.
The deal should have been done much earlier to get benefits flowing faster, she said. It was only persistent demands from the public that broke the deadlock, she added.
“Ultimately, Albertans told the UCP that this affordable child-care program was important to them,” said Pancholi. “The UCP were never on board, they dragged their heels, but Albertans made their voice loud and clear to get us where we are today.”