Anyone who has raised children knows it is very challenging. The first five years before kindergarten are especially demanding for parents as they try to give kids the full-time high-quality care they need while at the same time earn the money the family requires to get by. If you are a single parent or don’t have a lot of resources or family support this can become an almost impossible workload.
It is well accepted that strategic government investment in young children creates a lifetime of benefits not just for those children but also for the society and economy as a whole. Making sure children get a good start in life benefits us all.
Regrettably Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberal government have a long history of failing children who need help. This painful fact is evident when it comes to affordable child care in B.C.
You don’t need to take my word for it. Even the B.C. Chamber of Commerce has called out the B.C. Liberal government on this issue, noting that child care costs in B.C. continue to increase year after year while the availability of the needed services is decreasing. In their 2016/2017 Policy and Position Manual, the chamber makes an economic argument: the government should invest in child care because the economy as a whole benefits with more people in the workforce. First Call, a child and youth advocacy coalition, estimates that every public dollar invested in child care generates a return of $2.54 to our economy and that investing in the child care sector has a bigger job multiplier effect than in any other sector.
In addition to these economic arguments, there are compelling moral reasons to invest in child care. As a society we have an obligation to take care of each other and especially the most vulnerable among us. All children in B.C. deserve a good start in life. It’s that simple. For those who are struggling on a low income, the lack of affordable child care creates a tremendous obstacle to finding and keeping employment. By helping children with affordable child care we help parents create a better life for themselves and their families.
Child care costs in this region are normally at least $800 month and often substantially more. It is no wonder then that after housing, child care is the second highest cost facing B.C. families. It is another concerning example of the affordability crisis in B.C.
The evidence of the B.C. Liberal government’s failure on this issue is clear. B.C. invests just $398 a year per regulated child care space. That is less than half the Canadian average of $838 a year.
For the last 15 years the B.C. Liberal government has demonstrated they can’t get this right. In 2001, as one of new government’s first acts, the B.C. Liberal government and then-deputy premier Christy Clark cancelled a universal childcare initiative launched by the previous B.C. New Democratic government in partnership with the federal government. In the 2002 budget, the B.C. Liberal government drastically reduced funding for child care. B.C.’s total public investment in regulated child care decreased by $16 million between 2009 and 2012 alone. We regularly hear promises and announcements but the problem has not been addressed.
I’m sometimes criticized for always criticizing the government. First off, calling the government out is an important part of my job as a member of the official opposition. Secondly, the official opposition has and will continue to put forward many clear policies and proposals.
When it comes to the lack of affordable child-care, the official opposition is proposing a $10 a day child care program. Once fully implemented, parents will be able to secure a spot in a regulated child care program for $10 per day attended. The cost to the province would be offset in part by increased income and sales tax resulting from more parents in the workforce. Governing is about choices. The current government chooses to give an annual $250 million tax break to the top two per cent. The official opposition would use such funds to provide affordable and accessible child care that benefits everyone, especially the 20 per cent of British Columbian children who live in poverty.
Lana Popham is the MLA for Saanich South.