Picco accuses Ottawa of sidelining Nunavut child care needs

“We need extra help for the extra cost of delivering programs”

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

GREG YOUNGER-LEWIS

Nunavut’s minister of education is ready to give up on talks that he hoped would give the northern territories special status in a $5-billion national child care program.

Ed Picco has accused the federal government of sidelining the territory’s need for more child care dollars in negotiations to set up a nationally funded program for day care and after-school programs.

“We need extra help for the extra cost of delivering programs,” Picco said. “A higher percentage of our population is underage, and this program is meant specifically to deal with… young people.”

According to Picco, federal negotiators are offering approximately $800,000 a year for five years, based on a per capita funding formula. He said this amount might climb to $1 million by the second year of the program.

The government of Nunavut wants an additional $5 million each year over the five-year period, regardless of population levels, while the Yukon and the Northwest Territories are pushing for the same. The GN has grudgingly suggested they’re willing to settle for $2.5 million per year, plus per-capita funding.

A spokesperson for the federal ministry of social development said they expect to strike a childcare deal with Nunavut as early as this month. But Picco, currently the GN’s main negotiator, said he won’t budge from his demands.

He said Premier Paul Okalik will have to take over the failing negotiations between his department and Ottawa, if the federal government doesn’t offer more.

The federal government negotiators have been criss-crossing the country to set up side-deals on childcare with provinces and territories, because they failed to get all 10 provinces and three territories to join one program establishing national standards in 1999.

The money comes from a five-year, $5-billion national childcare plan unveiled by the Liberal government in its February budget, and the revamped budget, which passed first reading again last week.

Ottawa has struck childcare deals with several provinces, including:

* Newfoundland, which will receive $100 million over five years;
* Manitoba, which will get $176 million;
* Saskatchewan, which agreed to $146 million;
* and Ontario, which will receive $1.8 billion.

A spokesperson for Ken Dryden, minister of social development, declined to comment on why Nunavut and the other territories couldn’t be offered funding that wasn’t linked to their small populations.

“Conversations are going very well with all of the territories,” said Jamie Tomlinson. “We’re certainly respectful of the challenges they face. We have every hope that we’d be able to complete an agreement very soon.”

Under the federal program, First Nations reserves and aboriginal groups off-reserve can look forward to roughly $200 million in funds over the next five years.

Picco said the federal government has refused to give Nunavut access to the aboriginal-specific funds – a decision he believes violates the Nunavut land claims agreement.

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