THE Progressive Conservative government has finally unveiled proposed legislation that will freeze child care fees for three years.

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This article was published 11/3/2021 (474 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE Progressive Conservative government has finally unveiled proposed legislation that will freeze child care fees for three years.

"Now is not the time for an increase," Families Minister Rochelle Squires said at a media briefing just before Bill 47, the Early Learning and Child Care Act, was made public. It was introduced with 18 other bills in November, but not distributed to MLAs or made public until Thursday.

With the province needing time to recover from the economic hit of COVID-19, this isn’t the time to mess with licensed child-care fees that have been frozen for years, at $30.20 per day for infants and $20 for preschoolers, Squires said.

She noted the province, which has had a child care waiting list of 16,000 in recent years, is in the unusual position of having more than 5,000 vacant spaces, with parents still working from home or out of work.

"We need to get everyone back to work," she said.

The bill allows for direct financial assistance to eligible parents to help them obtain services, with continued financial assistance for parents who use licensed facilities.

Daycare advocates have said the system is starved for cash because there has been no increase in operating grants in five years. There have been calls for an income-tested fee system in which parents pay an amount based on what they can afford.

Squires ruled that out, saying at this time, a lot of families couldn’t afford an increase.

"We know there is a need for an infusion of cash into the sector," said Squires, adding she would have more to say Friday about operating grants for licensed non-profit centres.

The new bill requires licensed facilities to provide approved early learning programming to pre-school children.

It defines "early learning" as "a program of learning experiences that supports children’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive development" and clarifies what is meant by "child care" and "early learning" services "to support more flexibility within the sector," a government news release said.

At a media briefing, a Families Department official explained it differentiates the kind of care required. Children aged five and younger need more early learning; children aged 11 in an after-school program need less, for example.

The bill would streamline the certification process for early learning and child care providers to ensure qualified staff get into the workforce faster, the news release said. The current legislation requires workers either have a 40-hour assistant training course, a two-year diploma or an early child education degree.

The new bill also broadens licensing options to allow for more providers.

Existing legislation focuses on licensing of child care centres and home-based child care, which limits options for families, said Squires. Under the new legislation, other early learning and child care providers would be eligible for licensing. Squires offered the example of a dance studio that wants to provide child care for parents.

NDP families critic Danielle Adams criticized the legislation, saying it doesn't address Manitobans' child care concerns and allows for more for-profit providers.

"We have seen what happens when the private sector gets involved in the care sector," she told reporters. "Services go down and fees go up, and Manitobans want quality, affordable universal child care."

Some provisions in the new bill align are in the $599,000 KMPG Early Learning and Child Care Transformation report commissioned by the province that will be released within 30 days, Squires said.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.