June 2, 2020

Winnipeg
15° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Federal promises, provincial reality

Child care out of Ottawa's jurisdiction but photo ops all that matter

Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/9/2019 (258 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The problem with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s recent election promise to create more child care spaces, and cut parent fees, is the federal government doesn’t run child care — the provinces do.

Like health care and education, provincial governments fund, operate and make the rules around publicly funded child care, including what level of fees parents pay. The feds have nothing to do with it, other than to try to horn in from time to time, offering provinces cash in exchange for some loose and barely enforceable conditions.

Federal politicians do it because they seek relevance. Health care, child care and public schools are some of the most important services governments provide. Federal politicians desperately want to be part of them, not just by sending transfer payments, but by trying to get directly involved in policy decisions.

The attempts to encroach on provincial jurisdiction are more show than substantive public policy. They’re mostly about photo ops and image building.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau makes a campaign stop in St. John's on Tuesday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/SEAN KILPATRICK

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau makes a campaign stop in St. John's on Tuesday.

That was on full display Monday, when Trudeau used children as props during his announcement — as politicians from all political stripes do — when pledging to make child care more accessible and more affordable for parents.

Trudeau promised to boost child care funding to the provinces by $535 million a year through its existing Early Learning and Child Care Framework. He claims it would allow provinces (if they agree to the terms of the funding) to create up to 250,000 more spaces for before and after-school child care (under the age of 10). He also claims the feds would lower parent fees by 10 per cent across the country.

The federal government has no ability to lower fees, by any amount. Provincial governments would have to agree to lower fees in exchange for their portion of the $535 million. Provinces would also have to agree to open new spots for before and after-school students.

There are all kinds of problems with making generic policy on the fly, especially when it’s one level of government making promises in the jurisdiction of another.

For starters, the child care spots Trudeau is proposing to fund may not be the ones of greatest need in some provinces, or any province. Provinces may have pressures in other areas of child care, such as a shortage of spaces for infants or a lack of resources to pay child care workers decent wages.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau at a daycare in St. John's, N.L., on Tuesday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/SEAN KILPATRICK

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau at a daycare in St. John's, N.L., on Tuesday.

Each province has its own needs. And since the provinces run the programs, they know how best to spend the child care dollars they have.

Which is also why telling provinces they have to cut fees across the board is folly. Each province has its own child care programs with its own fee schedules. It may not be in the best interest of a province to cut fees across the board (which would reduce revenue for cash-starved care centres).

Some provinces may want to provide lower-income families with greater subsidies. Some may want raise fees for those who can afford it to ensure higher-income families pay a more equitable share. (Parent fees in Manitoba have been frozen at $20.80 per day for pre-school children since 2013, and have only gone up $2 since 2002.)

Probably the biggest flaw in attempts by federal politicians to encroach on provincial jurisdiction with short-term offers of money is: what happens when Ottawa’s cash runs out?

If the federal government gives a province money to open more child care spaces and a province does so — including paying for the bricks and mortar — who’s left holding the bag when Ottawa decides one day it’s no longer going to pay the operating costs? The provinces.

The best policy would be for the feds to transfer more tax points to the provinces (where Ottawa vacates a portion of taxation and allows provinces to raise theirs by a commensurate amount) to help them pay for health care, child care and public schools. That would allow provinces to make the best decisions for their specific jurisdictions, while still being accountable to taxpayers.

Federal politicians don’t like that approach because they wouldn’t get the photo ops. So they opt for bad, one-size-fits-all policies, such as Monday’s announcement, instead.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

Read full biography

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.