The featured item in Finance Minister Carole James’ budget for the coming year was not $10-a-day daycare, touted in the 2017 election and later downplayed by Premier John Horgan.
No, the banner item in James’ second full budget was the “Child Opportunity Benefit,” a pumped-up version of the existing “Early Childhood Benefit” that provides provincial tax credits for kids up to age six. When the NDP version starts in 2020, it will continue until age 18.
It’s not chump change. Eligible parents with one child get up to $28,800 over those 18 years. With two kids, it can reach $40,000.
It doesn’t start until next year because it’s tied in with the Canada Child Benefit, the marquee policy of the Justin Trudeau government. That program was actually started by Stephen Harper, but Trudeau made it his own by clawing back higher-income payments and boosting the low and middle income band.
It’s run by the Canada Revenue Agency, which requires provinces to give a year’s notice of changes. Government strategy is to get poor people connected to the tax system, which for them has turned into a negative income tax or welfare program.
The B.C. version starts to scale back the provincial tax benefit at an income of $25,000. Cue the shock and horror of the poverty industry that thrives in our cities, feeding the standard line to media that no matter how much money is thrown at poverty, it’s not enough.
B.C.’s income assistance rates are bumped up another $50 a month as well, across disability, single employable and family categories. This adds to the $100 a month Horgan and James added as soon as they were in office, after an unconscionably long time with no welfare increase under the B.C. Liberals.
Another instant media analysis you may have heard is that by embracing this costly child benefit, the NDP are turning their backs on $10-a-day licensed daycare. Not so, as James made clear to reporters. They’re doing both, and more.
She reminded us that $1 billion was put in last year’s budget for daycare. B.C. budgets are rolling three-year plans, so that’s $366 million in the fiscal year starting in March, and $473 million in 2021 as programs expand. This year’s budget adds another $300 million, for a total commitment of $1.3 billion.
These numbers include the current pilot program for “universal” daycare, running in 53 selected B.C.communities until spring 2020. B.C. has so many child care programs now it’s difficult to keep them sorted out, but James’ budget figures also include the addition of 3,800 new daycare spaces and replacing the former “Child Care Subsidy” direct to daycares with B.C.’s “Affordable Child Care Benefit” last fall.
That benefit is an increased subsidy to qualifying daycares to lower the fees they charge to parents to $350 a month per child. It’s almost fully subscribed now.
Still with me? The “universal daycare” pilot is not, strictly speaking, $10-a-day daycare, although some lucky parents are getting it for $200 a month. As the NDP was raising taxes to pay for this nanny-state juggernaut, Horgan waved off questions about his daily repeated $10-a-day campaign speech, saying that was just another slogan copied from the B.C. Federation of Labour.
In fact, the B.C. daycare pilot spaces are “free” to eligible families with pre-tax income less than $45,000. Qualifying families with income up to $111,000 are paying less than $10 a day.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org