Family Affordability

UPDATED May 18, 2023 @ 12:00pm

Family affordability - comparing Albertan party platforms


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This election, Generation Squeeze is rigorously assessing Alberta provincial party platforms and commitments on five key issues: investing fairly in all generations, investing in wellbeing (not just medical care), housing affordability, family affordability, and climate justice.

Our mission: to help voters better understand how far each party's platform goes towards actually solving big problems facing Albertans, and how these problems help prop up a broken generational system. 

Gen Squeeze does not tell you who to vote for, and we don’t aim to portray any party in a favourable or unfavorable light. Our goal is to help voters be as informed as possible about the positions of all of the parties on big issues for generational fairness in Alberta. Learn more about our methodology and commitments to non-partisan and evidence-based analysis

One key symptom of generational unfairness is the rising cost of starting and raising a family – and the limited support that public policies provide young families. Our analysis of family policy commitments in party platforms assesses the degree to which the UCP and Alberta NDP are acting on the 12 actions to ensure that all Albertans can afford enough time at home and enough time at work when they start their families, identified in our comprehensive policy solutions framework. This framework was created by Generation Squeeze and a coalition of academic and community experts.

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What are UCP and Alberta NDP candidates promising to do to help families across Alberta? We’ve dug into the details of party platforms to assess this top of mind question for many Alberta voters. Our analysis cuts through the noise, going beyond talking points to assess which platform best aligns with the evidence about what is required to help Albertans afford enough time at home and enough time at work as they start their families. Here’s a snapshot of what we found.

Helping young Albertans when they start their families not a top priority

Election platforms for the UCP and the Alberta NDP propose very little to help young families, or those considering whether to stay in the province to start one. This is a surprising gap in the policies on offer, when affordability is the top concern for so many.

Both parties are barely out of the starting gate when it comes to 12 policy actions needed to make having a family more affordable. The UCP and NDP platforms deliver only 8% of required measures. In fact, of the 40+ policy commitments on the Alberta NDP campaign website, there isn’t one that speaks directly to issues of helping Albertans afford enough time at home and enough time at work when they start a family.

Doing so little to support people to start and raise families in Alberta is a pathway to poorer health and social outcomes down the road — and a questionable way to attract the workers needed to sustain a diversifying economy. More is needed from the two parties campaigning to lead the province for the next four years.

Sustaining momentum on $10 a day child care — but no action to boost staffing to match demand

The commitment to lower child care fees to $10 a day is the only semi-bright spot for young families in this provincial election. The UCP promises continued action to implement the $10 a day child care model, investing earmarked federal funds over the next 3 years — but proposing to invest no provincial money beyond this. The party states that fees will drop to $10 a day for all Albertans by 2026, and that more child care spaces are on the way. Some of these spaces will be delivered by private child care providers, despite evidence that quality tends to be lower.

The Alberta NDP budgets $1 billion in additional provincial funds to accelerate and expand $10 a day implementation over the next 3 years. That’s a notable increase to existing federal funds, and would be a timely display of provincial leadership on this critical issue — rather than just riding the coattails of the federal government. 

The key weakness for the NDP, however, is that the party hasn’t backed up proposed new dollars with a clear policy statement about where these investments are going. This makes it difficult to assess the value of what’s on offer, or what’s being left off the table.

Let’s be clear: it’s great to see both parties embrace the $10 a day child care mantle, and commit to moving this policy forward — especially the NDP, because it will invest more urgently to address affordability concerns. But while reducing daily fees is a necessary place to start, alongside this we need leadership on the staffing required to grow the number of child care spaces, while maintaining the high-quality care parents rightly expect. These issues are notably absent from both parties’ plans.  

Good family policy doesn’t stop with affordable child care

Affordable, accessible and high-quality child care is a critical support for working parents — one Gen Squeeze pushed for over many years. But it’s not the only thing that families need. They also need improved leave provisions following the birth or adoption of a baby; and they need policies that facilitate finding and maintaining a healthy balance between family and work commitments. Both the UCP and Alberta NDP are silent on these issues. As a result, there’s real reason to be concerned that many Alberta families will continue to face hurdles in accessing the time, money and services needed to afford enough time at home and at work when they have children..

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Summary score table

The table below summarizes scores for the of United Conservative and New Democrat parties on each of the 12 family affordability criteria. We welcome feedback from parties, including concerns that we may have misinterpreted elements of their platforms when assigning our scores. We commit to revising our scores in light of party evidence that their platforms or other election documents include commitments that align with the evaluation criteria.

Detailed commentary


Criterion 1: Do the platforms embrace the goal that all Albertans can afford enough time at home and enough time at work when they start their families?

We know that entire generations of younger Albertans are being squeezed between stagnant earnings, rising costs, scarce family supports, and a lack of work-life balance. That’s why we need our political leaders to embrace the goal of supporting younger Albertans with the services, benefits, and other supports that allow them to succeed in the labour market AND at home as parents and family members. This is especially important at the moment when people are deciding if and when to start a family, given the extra financial, time and other pressures that come along at this stage in the life course.

UCP platform materials acknowledge that “[w]omen and families shouldn’t have to choose between a family or a career. Access to reliable, accessible, and affordable childcare ensures they won’t have to” ($10/Day Childcare). The UCP holds up improved access to child care as a solution for this challenge, but doesn’t speak to supports that could help parents navigate having more time at home as they start their families. As such, the UCP receive half a point.

The Alberta NDP platform promises to spend $1 billion more for child care by comparison with the UCP’s 2023 budget. While there is no text in the NDP platform that refers to this goal, Gen Squeeze is famous for saying that we judge party priorities by what they budget, not what they say. So we award half a point to the NDP for putting its money where its mouth isn’t (yet) by supporting families to afford enough time at work once they start their families. We don’t award the other half point because the party is both silent, and makes no obvious investments, to facilitate more parental time at home.

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Criterion 2: Do the platforms commit to the principle of ‘equality’?

This means encouraging a more equal sharing of caregiver responsibilities in two-parent households, including sharing both the joys and burdens of caring for and paying for children; and to advance both gender equality, as well as equality between parents regardless of their gender identities.

The platforms of the UCP and the Alberta NDP make no direct reference to the importance of supporting greater equality between women and men as they make choices to fulfil both caregiving and labour market responsibilities.

No points are awarded to either party.

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Criterion 3: Do the platforms commit to the principle of ‘time with family’?

This means embracing family time with kids and family supports as a cornerstone of Albertan society.

The UCP platform doesn’t address the importance of ensuring that Albertans have adequate time with family, or propose measures to support this aspiration. The 2023 budget observes that “Alberta is the best place to live, work and raise a family” (p. 7), but links this claim primarily to economic indicators like taxes paid, wages, and economic diversification. 

The Alberta NDP don’t propose any family specific policy in their platform commitments, other than the Kids Activity Tax Credit, a minor policy move that will deliver little in the way of substantive support to families.

No points are awarded to either party.

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Criterion 4: Do the platforms commit to increasing parental leave benefit amounts?

Particularly in ways that (a) increase the minimum benefit amount to help ensure parents do not have to raise their kids in poverty, and (b) increase the maximum benefit amount to help reduce the disincentive for higher-earning parents to take and share leave. Gen Squeeze modelling suggests minimum benefit of $500/week (close to today’s maximum), and a maximum benefit calculated as 80% of the parent’s annual earnings up to $67,000. This would yield a maximum weekly benefit of $1,031—nearly double the current maximum value.

The platforms for both the UCP and Alberta NDP do not make any reference parental leave. No points are awarded to either party.

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Criterion 5: Do the platforms commit to making parental leave benefits available to all households?

Meaning benefits are made available to ALL single- and dual-earner households regardless of parents’ attachment to the labour market (including the self-employed). In other words, leave benefits should no longer be based on Employment Insurance (EI) criteria.

The platforms for both the UCP and Alberta NDP do not make any reference parental leave. No points are awarded.

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Criterion 6: Do the platforms promote sharing of parental leave?

Through policy that reserves time for moms and dads, with exceptions for single-parents and same-sex couples. The evidence suggests that "goldilocks-length" periods of reserved leave (not too short, not too long, just right) are required to shift away from problematic expert/helper dynamics that reinforce a harmful gender division of labour, and towards a truer sharing of the joys and burdens involved in caring for, and paying for, children. For example, we recommend six months should be reserved for moms, six months for dads, and the other six months shared between parents. If a parent doesn’t use the entire time reserved for them, the time can’t be allocated to the other parent.

The evidence shows that leaves beyond a year for women exacerbate the gender division of labour at home and in employment, giving rise to gender pay gaps and reinforcing the glass ceiling. Plus, the evidence is clear that dads are happier when they get involved early on with their newborns, as are spouses and kids. If paired with the increase in benefit value we propose, all families would gain under this kind of system, even if one parent doesn’t use any of the time reserved for him/her/them.

The platforms for both the UCP and Alberta NDP do not reference parental leave. No points are awarded.

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Criterion 7: Do the platforms commit to dialing down child care service fees?

Consistent with the $10 a day child care movement, Gen Squeeze recommends reducing child care service fees to a maximum of $10 a day. We also recommend no fee for low-income families—those earning less than around $40,000/year, around the low-income cut-off for a family of four in Canada’s big cities.

The UCP platform commits that “all Albertans [will] have access to $10-a-day daycare by 2026”, thanks to the agreement between the Government of Canada and the Province of Alberta that makes child care available “at an affordable price” ($10/Day Childcare). Under this 2021 agreement, the federal government is investing $3.8 billion over five years to reduce child care fees, increase access, and improve wages for early childhood educators. Despite the UCP’s platform language, its 2023 budget for Alberta proposed to invest little more on top of federal funds.

UCP election commitments note that progress has already been made towards the $10 a day goal, with fees reduced “by half to an average of close to $15-a-day” ($10/Day Childcare). This is good news for Alberta families facing cost pressures, though it’s also notable that the province is lagging behind other jurisdictions. Manitoba, for example, has made big strides in addressing affordability by achieving $10 a day child care as of April 2023.

The UCP platform doesn’t make clear if the $10 a day will be the average fee, or the maximum fee as Gen Squeeze recommends. The party also does not commit to eliminating fees for low income households, despite widespread concerns about rising costs and declining affordability. While the UCP celebrates the “flexibility” and “options” created by offering a mix of both private and non-profit child care, evidence indicates that the quality of care is consistently higher in non-profit settings. We award the UCP half a point. 

The Alberta NDP platform costing document allocates $1 billion more to child care over the next 3 years — $165 million to create more child care spaces, and $882 million to accelerate and expand $10 a day implementation, and support early childhood educators. These investments are identified as being ‘incremental to Budget 2023’. This means that they are on top of the existing 5 year federal child care transfer amounts around which the UCP has planned.

The NDP deserve credit for proposing that the province invest additional funds in $10 a day child care to deliver on the urgency of this need, especially in light of the scale of demand from parents, and the current affordability crisis.

While we applaud the NDP on delivering funding, it’s a serious concern that there is no policy statement on child care in the almost 40 commitments listed on their website (as of May 17). In the absence of any information about the principles or approaches that underpin proposed new funds, it’s impossible to assess whether the right amounts of money are being spent in the right places. It’s also impossible to determine whether the NDP commits to $10/day being the maximum fee, or just the average.

We will continue to watch to see if the NDP fills this hole before the election. For now, we award the party half a point, on the strength of the commitment to invest $1 billion more than is promised by the UCP.

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Criterion 8: Do the platforms commit to pay equity and supports for care workers?

Average wages for child care workers remain low despite the enormous contribution these professionals make to getting our children off to the best start. Adequate supports for child care staff include on-site resources to ensure children spend their time in developmentally stimulating activities and play, and resources for children with extra support needs.

Neither the UCP nor the Alberta NDP address the importance of paying and supporting early childhood educators adequately, as a key ingredient in attracting and retaining workers in this vital sector. This omission is particularly disappointing in the wake of the pandemic, which underscored the critical nature of affordable and accessible child care for family wellbeing and the economy. Especially when the UCP acknowledges that demand for child care is growing — and is anticipated to further escalate (see Budget 2023, p. 85).

The Alberta NDP acknowledges in general terms that “wages have failed to keep pace with inflation,” stating that “Albertans have lost the most purchasing power in the country” (Creating Good-Paying Jobs). However, platform documents don’t include a specific reference to wages for child care workers, more of whom are needed to meet growing demand. The NDP costing document makes a vague reference to “support” for early childhood educators as part of 3 year funding envelop for expansion of $10 a day child care — but there’s no indication what this includes.

At present, no points are awarded to either party. If the NDP clarifies that some of the extra $1 billion it plans to invest in child care (by comparison with the UCP) will be used to enhance wages for early childhood educators, we would improve the party’s score on this criterion.

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Criterion 9: Do the platforms commit to high-quality child-to-caregiver ratios?

This criterion is informed by research showing child care staff:child ratios need to be considerably lower than in elementary schools to ensure high quality care.

Neither the UCP nor the Alberta NDP address staff:child ratios for child care settings in their platforms. No points are awarded.

The UCP acknowledges that the number of child care spaces in Alberta is growing — with 11,063 new spaces already in place, and another 15,500 promised in 2023. The 2023 UCP budget notes that “[d]emand for licensed child care spaces is the highest the province has ever seen, with enrolment exceeding 90%. Enrolment is anticipated to continue to increase as spaces are created and lower child care fees encourage more parents to enter the workforce” (p. 85).

This growth is encouraging, but makes it all the more critical to know how the party intends to complement this expansion with sufficient staffing to maintain the ratios needed for high quality care.

If the NDP clarifies that some of the extra $1 billion it plans to invest in child care (by comparison with the UCP) will be used to improve staff:child ratios, we would improve the party’s score on this criterion.

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Criterion 10: Do the platforms incentivize shorter full-time work norms?

This criterion speaks to supporting greater work-life balance after parental leave by reducing expectations around what we understand as full-time work hours. To make it less costly for businesses to use employees up to 35 hours per week—and more costly for hours thereafter—we can adapt overtime, Employment Insurance, and Canada Public Pension premiums paid by employers. For example, with new incentives, employers could reduce the full-time work week by 3-5 hours on average for those who currently work more than 40 hours/week. These employees would trade some after-tax wages (or future wage increases) in order to gain four more weeks of time per year. Changes to the Canada Child Benefit could be used to ensure that any reduction in employment hours does not reduce income in low-earning families. This may be especially important for some lone parent households. Employees who currently work part-time hours would gain opportunities for more employment. Within two parent homes, the total number of hours worked by parents may not change, but they may be redistributed more evenly between parents.

The platforms of the UCP and Alberta NDP don’t address the idea of shifting work norms towards shorter work weeks. No points are awarded to either party.

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Criterion 11: Do the platforms incentivize flexible work hours?

Greater flexibility in work hours is an underdeveloped area of policy innovation and action in Alberta—and in Canada more generally—though the pandemic and resulting remote and telework has increased momentum around these ideas.

Despite evolving expectations for greater flexibility in work hours or locations in the wake of the pandemic, neither the UCP nor the Alberta NDP speak to these issues in their platforms. No points are awarded.

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Criterion 12: Do the platforms acknowledge longer work lives?

Canadians are living 7-10 years longer we did when public retirement income security programs were first created. Census data confirm the fast pace at which Canada’s population is aging. Happily, Canada’s public pension system and the Guaranteed Income Supplement already provide a guaranteed basic income for seniors. The fact that these programs are working relatively well is why seniors have the lowest rates of poverty in Canada compared to all other age groups.

That’s why Gen Squeeze recommendations for greater work-life balance during our working years should considered be alongside questions about the age at which Canadians become eligible for retirement income support via the Old Age Security (OAS) program. It may be appropriate to expect (many) younger Canadians to work longer before claiming OAS—but this is contingent on ensuring that these longer work-lives help to pay for public programs required to facilitate greater work-life balance during each year of employment. In effect, this means investing more to implement the kinds of family policies called for in Gen Squeeze’s comprehensive family policy solutions framework.

Neither party speaks to this criterion, so we award no points.

Happily, no party includes commitments that mitigate against making progress on this criterion either, which has been a problem in recent federal elections.

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