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NDP rolls out child-care plan, bashes PCs

Knocks rivals' past record in that area

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The NDP opened up a new front in its campaign against Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservatives as it rolled out its new five-year plan to add 5,000 more funded child-care spaces and spend $25 million to expand the number of child-care centres.

The child-care plan was unveiled Thursday by Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross with a west Winnipeg child-care centre as a backdrop.

In highlighting the NDP's record on the child-care file since it took office in 1999, the New Democrats also handed out a March 1993 Progressive Conservative government news release to highlight how, at that time, the Tories capped the number of subsidized spaces, froze licensing of new daycares and asked parents to pay an additional $1.40 per day.

"In the past, economic uncertainty meant deep funding cuts to child care in Manitoba with a complete freeze on new child-care spaces," Irvin-Ross said. "Critics have again called for drastic cuts to supports families rely on, but we know that investments in the early years will give our children the strong start they need to be successful."

The NDP recently launched a mail-out campaign against Pallister to homes throughout the province and ran TV attack ads against the PCs during the recent Winter Olympics. It's also launched the website pallistercuts.ca.

Pallister said the NDP using daycare and children to further attack what his party did more than two decades ago is "pathetic."

"I don't see any point in attacking (former premier) Gary Doer," he said. "I don't see any point in attacking Ed Schreyer or Howard Pawley. I don't think it makes any sense. I think Manitobans want people to look to the future. I think every time the NDP does these things, they make themselves look embarrassingly weak."

Irvin-Ross said the new five-year plan continues what the NDP started in 2008 to add more child-care spaces and increase remuneration to child-care workers.

What centres or areas of the province are to see more spaces or centres, such as school-based centres or infant daycare, are still to be determined.

She said the additional $25 million will be spent to continue building and expanding 20 early-learning and child-care centres and daycares will see regular operating-grant increases, including a two per cent operating-grant increase for wages starting January 2015. It will also create a new wage-enhancement grant for early-childhood educators and new supports for licensed home-based child-care providers.

Irvin-Ross said the government will continue to tweak its online registry and child-care website to make them more user-friendly and so parents are confident their name will stay registered until they find a space.

Pat Wege, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, said she welcomed the province's commitments.

"It's also good to know the system is growing because people appreciate knowing that there are opportunities," she said.

Irvin-Ross also said the province will create an early learning and child-care commission early next year to look at the future of child care in Manitoba.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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