Liberals, NDP play child care card

Child care is now, officially, an election issue. Both the Liberals and the NDP promised to champion the industry.

Child care is now, officially, an election issue.

Both the Liberals and the NDP promised to champion the industry.

But their approaches were very different.

The NDP is long on sentiment and goodwill, but the Liberal Party has a detailed plan and budget.

This week, Liberals unveiled a detailed $2.8 million plan to bolster child-care services in the Yukon.

It pledged to increase the direct operating grant the Yukon government pays childcare facility operators by $600,000, a 25-per-cent increase.

It will increase the child-care subsidy by $100 per month, and raise the eligibility threshold by 25 per cent.

That threshold is currently pegged at $30,000 in household income, said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.

“So if you’re making $32,000 a year, you don’t receive (the subsidy),” said Mitchell, noting it would rise to $37,000 under the Liberal plan.

That would make almost 1,000 children eligible for the subsidy, said Riverdale North candidate Lesley Cabott. Currently, 733 children receive it.

As it stands now, low-income families receive $3,819 per child, per year. The increased subsidy would mean an additional $1,200 per child, per year, said Cabott.

The Liberals also promised to eliminate income tax on federal child-care payments and exclude newly promised child-care payments from the Conservative government in Ottawa from personal income when calculating eligibility for the subsidy.

And the Liberals would pay a bonus to childcare professionals based on their expertise, through $100,000 from the territorial budget.

“When you look at an $800-million-a-year budget, I think there are enough areas where money can be found with efficiencies,” said Mitchell.

“We’re not looking to cut any programming. We’re looking at spending decisions that have been made.

“For example, last year the money that was spent on the railway (feasibility study) is not money that has to be spent every year.

“That was $3 million.

“The current government found a way to do that. We’re saying, ‘Here’s $3 million that could go towards this.’”

This week, the NDP also unveiled its child-care plan.

There will be more money for day cares and child-care professionals, said New Democratic Party leader Todd Hardy from his hospital bed in Vancouver.

“In Yukon, a trained child-care worker with a diploma starts out at just over $14 an hour — about the same as they might get in a big-box store,” Hardy told reporters.

“Is that fair? Is that the price we’re prepared to pay for helping our kids get off to a good start in life?

“The NDP doesn’t think so.”

So, how much will the NDP spend to improve the situation?

Well, the NDP will sit down with child-care workers and family day home operators to identify what’s needed, said Hardy.

“We’ll take a good, hard look at both the (child-care) direct operating grant and the childcare subsidy and set realistic targets for the short, medium and long term.

“We’ll go directly back to the current year’s budget and see what can be freed up and what can be re-directed to meet the short-term targets.”

Subsequent budgets would address medium and long-term targets, he said.

Hardy also suggested improving education and training by eliminating school fees for curriculum-related activities, developing a fairer approach to post-secondary student grants and supporting literacy programs through the Community Development Fund.

Boosting child care would be expensive, he said.

“I can’t give you a precise figure, but I’ll be frank about that — it won’t be cheap.

“We have a lot of catching up to do.”

Pressed, Hardy said child-care funding increases must be “substantial.”

“The Liberals did nothing in their two-and-a-half years to address child care,” he said.

“The Yukon Party put $2 million towards it, but that was not addressing the very substantial need that has to happen at a child-care level.

“It didn’t come close.

“We need to sit down and take a very serious look at how we are going back to that budget this year and free up some money to get the child-care system up and running so that families can participate and are not unable because they can’t afford it, but also that the workers are paid properly.

“I don’t have a figure for that. The presentations have to be made to us.

“We are willing to make this one of our priorities.

“For me to say that it’s going to be a 30- per-cent or a 50-per-cent immediate increase would be very irresponsible in regards to what is actually needed by the child-care association.”

On Wednesday, Yukon Party leader Dennis Fentie suggested it was irresponsible to cost out election promises.

Fentie would not say how much a new cold climate research centre at Yukon College would cost, but instead criticized Liberals for being specific.

“Our party is a results-based party,” said Fentie.

The Yukon Party has pledged to spend money to keep seniors comfortable in their own homes — it hasn’t said how much — but has not released a child-care plan yet.

With files from Tim Querengesser.