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$3.8B federal deal promises to bring $10/day child care to every corner of Alberta by 2025

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EDMONTON -

After months of negotiations, Alberta and Ottawa say they have reached a deal to provide $10/day child care to Alberta families within five years. 

The $3.8-billion agreement was called a "generational gamechanger." 

The deal will see fees, on average, cut in half in January, some 40,000 non-profit spaces created across the province, and extra dollars dedicated to special programming and educator professional development. 

But not even while announcing the results of their collaboration could the leaders of Alberta and Canada set aside their political differences. It was only between shots at each other over emissions reductions, resource development, and equalization that Jason Kenney and Justin Trudeau called affordable and accessible child care a common goal. 

"Over 40,000 spaces created in the Alberta plan is the kind of thing that shows that when orders of government work together, we can achieve very big things," Trudeau commented. 

For months, pressure mounted on the Alberta government to sign a child-care funding agreement with Ottawa. On Monday, it was the ninth province or territory to do so, having previously said it wanted to secure a deal that met Alberta families' unique needs. 

According to the province's children's services minister, Rebecca Schulz, the supports announced Monday will be available to all existing private spaces operators, the majority of which are run by women. 

"We got what we believe is a much better arrangement that reflects the diversity of choices of Alberta parents and I don't think any responsible government takes a take-it-or-leave-it approach," Kenney said when asked why the deal came together so slowly. 

But he later noted Alberta would have "preferred" Quebec's arrangement with Ottawa, which was finalized in August and is essentially conditionless.

"At the end of the day, it's not the only time when we see what appears to be a two-tiered federation," Alberta's premier remarked. 

Trudeau quickly stepped up to the podium, telling reporters, "Allow me to respond directly to that." 

"Quebec already has $10/day child care... Indeed, it's at $8.50. So it made no sense for us to impose conditions that they have already surpassed," the prime minister rebutted. 

Quebec created its own network of reduced child-care services in the 1990s and was given the option to opt-out of the federal program and receive full financial compensation.

Trudeau continued: "It's not about treating one province differently. If Alberta already had child care at $8/day across the province, we would have had an approach similar to Quebec. So let's not create constitutional conventions out of this."

CRITICISM FROM NDP, UNLICENSED SECTOR

The head of an organization that supports unlicensed child-care providers applauded the announcement for the benefit it would give Alberta families who choose that option, but noted unlicensed care providers and the families they serve will be left out. 

Unlicensed child-care options include babysitters, nannies, private dayhomes and arrangements with family or friends, and are sometimes the best option for a family or the only accessible option, Embolden Private Dayhome Community's Danielle Bourdin told CTV News Edmonton.

Citing the most recent Statistics Canada census data from 2016, Bourdin estimated Alberta's licensed child-care sector has less than half of the spaces the province needs. Even with the addition of 42,500 spaces by 2025-26, Bourdin says it could still be short 125,000 slots. 

"We aren't looking to be compensated financially in the same way that a licensed dayhome would be, or any licensed child care provider, but just to have that acknowledgement that we are here meeting the demand," Bourdin said. 

She expects some shift to happen with parents leaving unlicensed providers if they now fit under the expanded subsidy program, and is concerned about quality being sacrificed during the rapid expansion. 

But overall, Bourdin expects private dayhome operators to survive the transition. 

"Obviously they know they cannot run a quality program on $10/day parent fees... I don't think that there will be pressure to reduce fees in unlicensed programs simply by the fact that we will not have enough spaces available to meet the demand in Alberta, and so we'll see what's happening similarly in Quebec when they rolled out their $10/day program and unlicensed child care still existed for many, many years and still does to this day."

A government spokesperson could not confirm the number of unlicensed care providers in the province, but said it was working to remove barriers for them to become licensed through aid to dayhome agencies.

"Parents will continued to be supported by programs like the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), child care expense deduction and the Alberta child and family benefit (ACFB)," Schulz' press secretary Becca Polak added. 

Alberta's Official Opposition also criticized Kenney's United Conservative government's presentation of the private sector as a barrier to signing a deal with Ottawa. 

"The federal announcement was always clear that funding could go to for-profit and non-profit providers, provided they are actually licensed providers, but that new growth would happen in non-profit providers. But it was always on the table that that was available," Children's Services Critic Rakhi Pancholi said.

She pointed to other provinces or territories with mixed markets who signed deals months ago.

The plan announced Monday, Pancholi added, is very similar to a proposal her party made in July. 

"Why did it take so long? Because, really, it seems clear that there was just political stalling going on," she continued, accusing Kenney's government of waiting to see if a new federal government would be elected. 

Fees are expected to drop immediately on Jan. 1, 2022. Costs will be reduced for parents through grants afforded directly to operators. 

Alberta's subsidy system will also be expanded for households whose income is up to $180,000 per year. 

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he was thrilled by the deal announced Monday and that the city was committed to figuring out how to create new child-care spaces, whether in existing city facilities or reviewing zoning bylaw.