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February 8, 2006 permalink
Canada's new Conservative government is moving quickly to get mom and dad more influence over their children. One step is reduced funding for those social service agencies that otherwise would be caring for children. Howls of pain are already coming from the agencies, as is evident in this article from the Toronto Star, unfavorable to the Conservatives.
Harper offers Quebec 'transition' child-care deal
Not clear whether other provinces will get similar deals
Feb 7, 2006. 05:01 PM, SUE BAILEY, CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA — Stephen Harper is facing a showdown with the premiers over his plan to scrap child-care deals that were years in the making.
The prime minister offered Tuesday to negotiate a "transition period" with Quebec before cutting off related funding to all 10 provinces after March 31, 2007.
It wasn't immediately clear whether other provinces will get similar offers before the Conservatives snuff the Liberal plan to set up a $5-billion national day-care system.
But leaders in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba said Tuesday they expect the Tories to honour commitments made by the former government.
Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba signed five-year funding pacts, while the other provinces had one-year agreements in principle as they worked out details to negotiate longer terms. That process was interrupted by the recent federal election.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday that his Liberal government has much invested in its child-care deal.
"All I know is that we worked long and hard to land the agreement we have in place and we are very reluctant to give that up. We think that serves the interest of Ontarians and serves them well."
Ontario's minister of children and youth services, Mary Anne Chambers, has repeatedly stressed that her government negotiated in good faith with Ottawa — not with the now defeated Liberals.
In Manitoba, there was similar resolve.
"We still have two signed agreements with the government of Canada," said Family Services Minister Christine Melnick.
"Our expectation is that they certainly will be honoured. We are very committed . . . to our five-year child-care plan."
Harper made a point of calling Quebec Premier Jean Charest earlier in the day.
Details have not been worked out on whether funding would be extended in Quebec or for how long, said Harper spokesman William Stairs.
"It was a cordial conversation. Basically what (Harper) said to him was that we would be moving forward with this and he offered to get together with Mr. Charest to discuss this."
The two men plan to meet soon in Ottawa, Stairs said.
"He started with the premier of Quebec because they have the most established (day-care) system in place, so we thought it would be a good place to begin discussion."
Will other provinces be offered transition periods?
"We'll see what happens," Stairs said. "We have a plan for child care. We ran on that plan and we intend to put that plan into place."
Harper announced just hours after being sworn in Monday that he'll move fast to end agreements negotiated over more than two years with all 10 provinces.
The Liberals committed $5 billion over five years to help create early-learning spaces across Canada.
But the Conservatives slammed the deal as a potential black hole of overspending that doesn't offer parents real choice.
They want to give parents $1,200 a year for each child under age six starting July 1. They will also offer $250 million in tax credits to employers and non-profit agencies that cover the full cost of providing new spaces.
Tories say the plan could create 125,000 spots over five years, but critics say tax incentives have failed in the past to motivate employers.
Charest has warned that child care falls squarely on Quebec's jurisdictional turf. The five-year deal signed by Quebec and Ottawa in October hands $1.1 billion to the province with few strings attached.
"We want the agreement reached with the former government to be respected," Charest said Tuesday in St-Georges-de-Beauce, south of Quebec City.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe pointed out that cutting the child care funds will cost Quebec $806 million over four years. That won't jibe with Harper's promise to correct the fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces, he said.
"That is far from resolving the situation. It's aggravating (it)."
In Quebec, parents pay $7 daily for care that costs the province $1.1 billion a year.
Demand for similar services is high across the country. According to national statistics, 70 per cent of women with children under the age of six have jobs, but there are regulated spaces for fewer than 20 per cent of those kids.
On the ground, there is growing confusion about what will become of new services, jobs and wage hikes already planned or in place.
"The child care movement is reeling," said Monica Lysack, executive director of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada. ``Within hours of being sworn in, Harper ripped the child-care program away from parents and children without any discussion.
"This is not how a minority government should behave. (Harper) got a clear message from Canadians when two-thirds of them supported other parties."
Conservative officials say their intentions were clear, and that Harper is simply doing what was promised.
Source: Toronto Star