October 23, 2019

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Liberals vow to eliminate wait list for child-care spaces

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont

If voted into power this September, the Manitoba Liberals would add enough child-care spaces to eliminate the provincial wait list, a queue which currently runs about 16,000 spots deep.

"Many parents face waiting lists for child-care so long they'd need to put a name on the list before their child is born," Liberal leader Dougald Lamont said Monday at Sunny Mountain Day Care on Main Street. "We are providing a solution that neither the PCs nor the NDP are providing," he added.

On Sunday, the provincial Progressive Conservative party announced plans for a revamped child-care funding program, with a maximum subsidy of $500 per month to be paid to 3,000 lower income families and an addition of about 3,000 new child-care spaces province-wide. The Liberals will more than one-up the PCs, Lamont said.

"The (Progressive Conservatives) are offering 3,000 spaces, and we are offering to eliminate the wait list entirely," Lamont said, pledging 18,000 new spaces. "Their promise is 1/6 the size of ours."

Under Lamont, the Liberals are aimed at establishing 55,000 child-care spaces by September 2027, a benchmark that would require the creation of 2,250 spaces per year. The Liberal leader noted that in 2016, when the Greg Selinger-led NDP government gave way to the Pallister-led PCs, the wait list sat at 12,000.

Driving these developments will be a $33-million increase in annual funding for child-care and early childhood education. Of that, $5 million will be used to boost the minimum wage of early-childhood and child-care workers to "at least" $15 per hour; $5 million will provide direct support to low-income families; $12 million will fund the new spaces' operating costs; and $5 million will provide capital funding for new infrastructure.

The Liberal plan also earmarked $6 million to fund half of the 2,691 child-care spaces currently operating without provincial funding, with the other half receiving funding the following year; that works out to $4,460 per centre. In 2016, the Progressive Conservatives froze funding for those centres.

In April, the Manitoba Child Care Association received 26,000 signatures on a petition to end the funding freeze. Prior to the provincial campaign, the association asked each registered party questions centred around affordability, accessibility, space creation, and quality.

"The campaign announcement by the Progressive Conservatives does not support these priorities," said Jodie Kehl, the organization's executive director. "Existing licensed child care programs have not had an operating revenue increase in over 3.5 years. This announcement skirts around the core issues rather than providing solutions."

"While not endorsing any plan or party, today's announcement by the Liberal party promises to more closely address (essential child-care issues the MCCA has identified)," she added.

Additionally, the Liberals would move early-childhood education-related responsibilities from the Department of Families to under the Department of Education umbrella, Lamont said.

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

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