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March 21, 2013

It’s time for B.C. to invest in $10 per day child care

by Sharon Gregson and Stephanie Smith


On the eve of a provincial election in May, with every prospect of an NDP victory, it is time for a social wage initiative – Early Childhood Education. Here two leading proponents of publically funded ECE explain the economic value of such a social investment.

Early learning creates lifelong value

The B.C. child care system is failing families, workers and business: child care fees are high, quality spaces are rare, and business pays the price

Work-life conflicts among employees with preschool-age children cost $600-million annually in employee turnover, absenteeism, and health care premiums. B.C. also has the lowest workforce participation in Canada for mothers with children over age three. It’s time for politicians to support a universal, accessible and publicly funded $10 per day child care system, a plan also supported by B.C. business groups.

In the recent budget, the government promised a $55-per-month child care tax benefit from 2015. This will do nothing to help young B.C. families squeezed between unaffordable housing and exorbitant child care. The benefit amounts to less than one day of child care in Vancouver, where fees average $14,000 a year for a two-year-old, but can reach as high as $23,000. Long waiting lists grow daily, while licensed child care spaces are available for only one in every five children. Meanwhile, low wages for early childhood educators (ECEs) create recruitment and retention problems, and half of all trained ECEs are not working in the sector.

With the $10 per day child care plan, child care fees would be capped at $10 a day, with no user fees for families earning under $40,000 a year. The number of licensed child care spaces would increase, and boards of education would be responsible for funding, developing and governing early care and learning, much like the school system. The plan would also improve wages and training for ECEs.

Over 3,000 families marked B.C.’s first Family Day by urging government to commit to $10 per day child care, signing postcards advocating for high-quality, affordable, accessible publicly funded early care and learning. Municipalities from Powell River to Dawson Creek, boards of education from Vancouver to the Kootenays, the BCGEU and other labour unions and many other groups have endorsed the $10 per day child care plan. The Burnaby and Surrey boards of trade have also called on the government to commit to the plan.

Critics trivialize universal child care as taxpayer-funded babysitting. In fact, early learning creates lifelong value. TD Bank chief economist Craig Alexander recently noted that early care and learning has a ripple effect, leading to better job prospects, higher earnings and reduced risk of poverty. For low-income families or single parents, the ability to work while children are young can mean the difference between living on social assistance and working for a better life for their families.

“The biggest bang you get for your government dollar in terms of investment is investment in education in young individuals,” Alexander noted. Investing in early learning increases our economic competitiveness over the long term, but we fail to fund early learning like we do the school system: $8,300 funding per child in B.C. schools every year, but only $380 for early learning.

Victoria must commit to the vision of building an affordable quality child care system, and act upon several low-cost initial implementation steps straightaway. First, move early care and learning into B.C.’s Ministry of Education. Second, rescind the tax benefit, because it will not help build a child care system, and immediately reduce parent fees to $10 per day in every existing licensed infant and toddler space in B.C. Price tag: $88 million — a third less than the $146 million allocated in the flawed B.C. budget approach to child care.

Third, Victoria must lobby the federal government to ensure that all provinces can invest in child care. The OECD says Canada ranks last on early childhood spending among developed countries, lagging behind average spending by $3 billion to $4 billion a year.

Given the sad state of B.C.’s child care system, it will take five to 10 years to build the spaces and train the ECEs needed to offer quality early care and learning to B.C. families. We can build up and invest gradually over a decade until the system is complete, at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion annually, according to University of B.C. researchers.

TD Bank says the investment is worthwhile: it pays for itself over time through job creation, better health and social outcomes, increased taxes and enhanced economic competitiveness. Cost-benefit analyses show child care provides a return of $1.50 to nearly $3 for every tax dollar invested, and has a bigger job multiplier effect than any other sector, generating more employment per dollar of activity.

B.C.’s politicians need to commit to the vision of $10 per day child care today.

Sharon Gregson is spokeswoman for the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. and a director of Collingwood Neighbourhood House. Stephanie Smith is treasurer of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union and an ECE with 30 years experience. The $10 per day plan can be viewed at

Reprinted with permission of the authors.