National Post (National Edition)

Lower fees, more spaces both key, Hussen says


OTTAWA • The federal minister in charge of the government’s push on child care says bringing down fees parents pay is a key ingredient in the Liberals’ design for a national system.

Social Developmen­t Minister Ahmed Hussen also says that just as critical will be to expand the number of affordable daycare spaces across the country for parents who want them.

He says the two issues have come up in his conversati­ons with his counterpar­ts in other countries that have created national childcare systems.

He also says the two issues are key take-aways from Quebec, which is the lone province with such a system.

Hussen said that driving down fees and ramping up the number of spaces would likely require a sizable influx of federal funds.

He added the government expects the already high demand for daycare spots to increase once the pandemic is firmly in the country’s rearview mirror.

“We have to work hard together to decrease fees substantia­lly, to make it more affordable for parents, but we also have to make sure that there is an increase in the number of spaces,” Hussen said in an interview.

“Otherwise, we’ll have a situation where you make it more affordable, but only for those who can access it. And for those who just can’t find a space, they’re out of luck.”

The Liberals pledged to create a universal child-care system in their September throne speech as a way to help more women return to and enter the workforce as their numbers fell during the pandemic.

Along with longtime advocates, business groups have also become more vocal supports of the idea, something Hussen and other Liberals now cite when discussing child care.

November’s economic statement pledged money to help provinces and territorie­s hire, train and retain early childhood educators, as well as build the necessary government infrastruc­ture to guide policy developmen­t.

“You can’t talk about a national system, more affordabil­ity, more quality and an expansion of spaces without hiring more workers,” Hussen said. “Without increasing the number of early childhood educators, then you’re not really delivering on those increased spaces.”

The total spend on child care in the fall statement amounted to $585 million in new money, some of it spread over five years.

In their consultati­ons with experts, the Liberals have been told funding would be needed to make spaces affordable. In some cities, a daycare space can cost more per month than rent or mortgage payments.

To build the kind of system nationally that Quebec has provincial­ly could cost Ottawa upwards of $11 billion annually by some estimates once fully in place.

Hussen said the government would bring “resources and political will” to the table in talks with provinces.

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