Canada

New Brunswick mother ‘really hopeful’ about Ottawa’s childcare promise

Ottawa is prioritizing regulated childcare with its newly-tabled budget, hoping to ease accessibility by making it more affordable.

The ambitious goal comes with a $30B investment over five years with a goal of offering $10-per-day childcare across the country. By 2022, the goal is to cut childcare costs in half.

It’s a plan that has Isabelle Agnew, a Rusagonis, N.B., mother, cautiously optimistic about the impact if it becomes a reality.

“I’m really hopeful that it would happen,” she says.

“Daycare is a huge expense,” she says. “We’ve been talking about going forward, if and when we’re going to have a second child, how that’s going to come into play, how we’re going to deal with two daycare bills… Or if I’m going to have to sit out and not work so we can make it work.”

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She says if the plan proceeds, it would “make a huge impact on our budget.”

Read more: Canada’s plans to deal with COVID-19 deficit, childcare spark questions

But Agnew, who is on maternity leave with her nine-month old daughter, has learned to take similar promises in stride.

“We’ve seen this in the past,” she says. “We’ve seen promises for these kinds of programs and nothing really comes of it.”

AJ Arsenaeu, a Saint John mother of two daughters aged 10 and 12, applauds the pledge.

“When I heard the announcement by Ottawa, I thought ‘finally, it’s about time,'” Arseneau says.

“When I had children, I found that, while I was married, my job was working at a loss,” she says. “I was not actually making money because of childcare costs being around $1,600, and then you factor in transportation and the extra food.”

The impact on ‘the system’

The Association of Early Childhood Educators of Nova Scotia says the commitment is a “long-awaited step.”

“I think it is a game-changer for families in Canada,” says Catherine Cross, the executive director. “I think it is a game-changer for my sector, I think it’s a game-changer for the economy.”

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The plan is a “good foundation” for a childcare system, she says, though she adds she has a bit of worry about the sustainability of the program. That being said, the ball has to get rolling.

“If you invest some now, there’s gonna be a pay-off down the road,” Cross says. “The pay-off comes in economic benefits for families being able to participate in the workforce, for early childhood educators to participate in the workforce and all of that means that there is gonna be taxes going back into the system.”

Heather Hamilton, the owner and operator of Hamilton Homestyle Daycare and Seawood Early Childcare Centre in Saint John, wasn’t surprised with the big-ticket investment.

Read more: Will $10-a-day childcare bring more women back to work?

She says in theory, the plan is a good one, “it’s just having it work practically on the ground.”

“We have two centres right now that are full to the brim with a waitlist of 30-40 children,” she says. “So if you’re putting people back to work, which I completely support, where are we going to put these kids?”

“And a lot of times, during the pandemic year, there have been centres that have closed down because they couldn’t afford to stay open,” she says, “so it’s almost a catch-22.”

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Maritime premiers react

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin told reporters Monday evening he estimated Ottawa’s boost to childcare would equate to around $100 million per year for the province — something he said was “very substantial.”

“I’ve asked the Department of Education to see how we can leverage on that opportunity to building on our pre-primary program and look at what our opportunities are,” he said.

As for the federal government’s goal of bringing in $10-per-day childcare, he says that’s something the province will have to calculate.

“That’s a lofty goal but if we can sign an agreement to make that happen, I’d be very pleased to make that happen,” he said.

Read more: Saint John-area daycares stay open for children of essential workers

About two hours after the budget was tabled, New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs called the move an “election ploy.”

“They’re committing every province to be a 50 per cent participant before they’ve ever had any discussions of any kind,” he explained.

“We know that childcare is a big issue, so I get it, and we want to continue to enhance that,” he said. “But if you look across the nation, [New Brunswick is] not in real bad shape.”

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“We can always get better,” he admitted.

New Brunswick will await “more details,” Higgs said, “but they need to be applicable to what we need here in our province, because we also appreciate the challenges many parents are facing.”

— With files from Global News Rebecca Lau

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