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Province's multi-year day care plan hinges on federal election outcome [CA-NS]

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Cape Breton Post
Publication Date: 
3 Jan 2006

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Just before Christmas, Nova Scotia Department of Community Services spokesperson Cathy MacIsaac assured us that the government was "forging ahead" with a multi-year plan to develop early child care in the province and would release the document "as close as possible to the first of the new year." Don't be surprised if the plan, already overdue, gets misplaced until after the Jan. 23 federal election.

Agreements with each of the provinces and territories on the federal early child care plan was the major work of 2005 for Social Development Minister Ken Dryden. Nova Scotia signed its deal in May, but the intervening months have shed little public light on how the broad principles of the agreement will be implemented.

The urgency for action has been underlined by a report on the state of day care in Canada.

The report by the Canadian Union of Public Employees says that in 2003-04 Canada had day care spaces to accommodate just 24.4 per cent of children aged 12 and younger whose mothers were in the workforce. In Nova Scotia, the percentage was 14.8. Moreover, Nova Scotia parents paid the second highest fees in the country.

Nova Scotia's hope for improving the day care system relies heavily on the new federal program which, once fully engaged, would almost double the resources available for early child care in the province. The federal contribution would amount to $137 million over five years, and the first installment - $20 million - is sitting in a trust account awaiting rollout of the province's plan.

However, this and every other provincial early child care plan has been thrown into limbo by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's promise that a Tory government would scrap the Liberal plan and instead offer parents direct payments of $1,200 for each child younger than six years. There would also be $250 million a year in credits to help employers and community groups that create day care spaces, though the Liberals say the Tories are vastly overestimating how many spaces would be created.

Premier John Hamm, who has strongly endorsed Harper to win the election, first thought Nova Scotia's five-year federal funding would be safe despite the platform promise. But the federal Conservatives have made it clear that this is not the case. Nova Scotia would keep its $20 million but all the rest would be cancelled.

Clearly the province's master plan for rapid development of early child care is toast under a federal Conservative victory. Many who don't like the institutional child care approach will be just fine with that, but the Nova Scotia government until now has given every indication that it was pleased about having the federal money to develop day care in the province.

Do the premier and his government still endorse Harper for prime minister, and are they willing to forgo more than $100 million in early child care funding over the next four years to see a federal Conservative victory? Since the premier was so open and enthusiastic in his endorsement of Harper when the Conservative leader visited Halifax on Nov. 30, Hamm owes it to Nova Scotians to say whether that view still holds and if so how he reconciles himself to the loss of the embryonic early child care plan for the province.

- reprinted from the Cape Breton Post