With daycare looming as an issue in this year's federal election, a new poll suggests most Manitobans favour the NDP's plan to create more subsidized child-care spaces instead of the Conservative policy of providing cash directly to parents.

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With daycare looming as an issue in this year's federal election, a new poll suggests most Manitobans favour the NDP's plan to create more subsidized child-care spaces instead of the Conservative policy of providing cash directly to parents.

 

A poll conducted by Probe Research for the Winnipeg Free Press shows 52 per cent of Manitobans want the government to create more affordable, publicly funded spaces. Just over 30 per cent of people say cash ought to be given directly to parents instead.

SSLqIt's essentially overwhelming support for some kind of government intervention' ‐ Susan Prentice, child-care advocate

"This is a real wedge issue," said Probe vice-president Curtis Brown. "The different parties have really staked out different approaches."

In 2006, the Tories created the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), which sends parents a monthly cheque worth $100 for every child under six years of age. Last fall, the Harper government announced it will boost the benefit to $160 a month this year. And, for the first time, parents of children six to 17 will get $60 a month toward child care, though few teenagers require it.

The NDP, meanwhile, effectively kicked off its pre-election campaign with a pledge to spend $5 billion on a universal daycare program with parent fees capped at $15 a day. In the first four years, Leader Thomas Mulcair said, the move would see the creation of 370,000 new spaces, with many more to come.

The federal Liberals have so far been silent on their child-care plan, though former prime minister Paul Martin eked out deals with each province to co-fund a national child-care program in the months before the 2006 election.

Once elected, Prime Minister Stephen Harper cancelled those agreements in favour of the UCCB.

Though most Manitobans favoured a universal system, Probe's survey uncovered a surprising exception: Most parents with children younger than six -- those on the front lines of the struggle for a convenient, affordable daycare spot -- wanted the monthly cash. Among those young parents, 57 per cent supported a direct payment such as the UCCB while only 37 per cent wanted more government-funded spaces.

Longtime child-care advocate Susan Prentice said it makes some sense parents would rather have a tangible and immediate benefit, especially one they're already familiar with, instead of a more nebulous, long-term promise of more spaces.

"It's not at all surprising parents would prefer a known benefit as opposed to an unknown," said Prentice, a University of Manitoba sociology professor who has studied child-care policy for much of her career.

Brown said Harper likely had substantial polling data on the politics of the UCCB, and Probe's survey bolsters the suspicion the monthly cheques to parents are an effective way to target a key voting demographic.

Prentice said she was also heartened by the low number of Manitobans, 14 per cent, who were unsure which daycare policy option they favoured or who disliked them both. Prentice said that suggests most people believe there is a child-care problem that needs some kind of public solution.

"It's essentially overwhelming support for some kind of government intervention," said Prentice.

"Now all we're doing is trying to discuss which delivery mechanism is the most efficient."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca