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Ready for a review

Subsidized child care pilot program's flaws need to be fixed

The future of $25-a-day daycare in Alberta is, as with any pilot program, not a certain thing. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumours of this program’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

In recent weeks, headlines have muddied the waters on what the UCP intends to do with Alberta’s subsidized child care pilot program. Was the pilot being cancelled? Was it being put on hold until the fall budget? The rumour mill began to churn.

The Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) program, brought in under the former NDP government, expanded in April 2018 to 122 locations, two of which are currently operating right here in St. Albert. The last phase of the pilot ends in 2021, at which point it will undergo a much-needed review.

While subsidizing the costs of child care is not the sole purpose of the program – early learning curriculum, supports for children with diverse needs, and flexible child care are all part of the pilot – $25-a-day daycare has arguably been the most talked-about piece of the program. It has helped families afford child care and – as shown by the case of St. Albert’s Allison Hodgson, who recounted her experience being part of the program to the Gazette last week – allowed working mothers to spend more time at the jobs they cherish.

But the program has some very real flaws, which Morinville-St. Albert UCP MLA Dale Nally pointed out during a recent interview with the Gazette. It doesn’t currently help rural families; there seems to be little rhyme or reason as to which daycares received funding under the pilot; and child care spaces appeared to be snapped up on an arbitrary first-come, first-served basis instead of being doled out more circumspectly to those who had the greatest financial need.

The good news is these are all problems that can be addressed through a thorough review and – depending on the results of said review – the roll-out of a more comprehensive program.

Daycares, parents and supporters of the pilot have understandably been spooked. But as Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz penned in a July 19 letter to ELCC operators, the UCP government intends to let the program run its course as planned. The eventual review will take into account the needs of families and children province-wide.

That review is sorely needed. While none of the pilot’s flaws should prove fatal, they do need to be fixed if the program is going to fulfil its intended purpose of helping families afford child care and – by extension – helping women to rejoin the workforce.

On that goal, the former NDP government and the current UCP government should be aligned. Premier Jason Kenney has been hammering the point home since his party took power that his goal is to get Albertans back to work.

Aside from making subsidized daycare more efficient and equitable, a review of this pilot should serve as a timely reminder that that goal encompasses all Albertans – women included.