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Delivering the goods

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Like many, I casually watched last spring's provincial election, distracted by the demagoguery and vulgarity that's come to define the U.S. presidency.

That said, some key promises, made by the NDP, captured my attention.

A $15 minimum wage, to be gradually phased in until its achieved in 2021, and $10-a-day daycare felt like major steps forward, bringing us closer to western European countries that have long recognized the value of paying a decent wage and helping out young families.

"When people say they can't afford to have children, I think that's something we should act upon," said party leader John Horgan during the campaign. "We can liberate women largely to participate fully in the economy, and we can ensure employers that productivity is going to go up because there is a less concern about the patchwork child care that most families have to weave together."

At rates of between $40 and $70 a day, British Columbians pay some of the highest daycare rates in the country, leading many parents to drop out of the labour market or pause their careers.

Frustrated by an economy that has seen housing and living costs rise dramatically over the past 15 years, $10-a-day daycare became a rallying point for the NDP.

It came, then, as a surprise that the party didn't make mention of it in the budget update last week. It's since come out that the NDP's power-sharing partners, the BC Green Party, oppose the $10 a-day plan.

The tenuous political relationship, which exists because the NDP needed the BC Green Party's three seats to form a government, is clearly already being tested.

In a revealing interview on CBC Radio following the budget announcement, Green leader Andrew Weaver — who comes across as just as pedantic as former BC Liberal Party leader Christy Clark was "folksy" — explained his logic.

"Everyone is hung up on $10 a day," said Weaver. But that's an arbitrary number, he argued. Better to account for income and land on a "means-tested amount" for families.

But what, asked the announcer, about the fact that it was an election promise?

"As we all know, campaign promises right now, in this situation, are not what's important. The reality is the BC NDP did not win the election."

Maybe so. But that doesn't mean voters don't want them to follow through. Weaver's comments come on the heels of another Green-caused set back for progressives.

In August, the NDP announced it would eliminate the 2021 timeline for instituting a $15 minimum wage, because the Greens felt it was arbitrary.

Instead, the province will set up a Fair Wages Commission (would be curious to know what they'll be making?), which will develop a new timeline. "We're going to work with him," said Labour Minister Harry Bains in reference to Weaver in The Vancouver Sun in August. "He's saying that we should not be prescriptive of the fair wages commission and I agree with him."

To his credit, Weaver has expressed deep concern for working British Columbians and noted that the commission "may recommend a differential minimum wage from Metro Vancouver to, say, other regions" and institute changes more quickly than the previous timeline.

Let's hope so. But isn't perfect the enemy of good?

For all our resource wealth, British Columbians have some of the highest child-poverty rates in the country, and the cost of living is atrocious, especially for many who live in urban centres. The 2021 timeline set a clear roadmap for employers, a clear path to a dignified wage for B.C. workers.

Quebec instituted its subsidized daycare system in the 1990s. And while it's by no means perfect (the province has instituted a new rate that caps out at just over $20, based on the prior year's income), people genuinely like the program. It's cut down on the number of single-parent families on welfare, saving the government millions in social assistance, and become a celebrated part of the province's social fabric.

There are, of course, many strains on the government. B.C.'s wildfires, in particular, will eat up a huge chunk of the province's budget. But people are looking for change.

It therefore seems odd that Weaver, for all his talk, would choose to put distance between the Greens and the NDP on these issues. For all we know, the NDP might not have been willing to bring them in in the first place.

In defending his decision to scrap $10-a-day daycare, Weaver stated defiantly that "public policy is not made on round numbers and catch phrases."

I couldn't agree less. Instituting major change requires clear messaging, strong leadership, and momentum. And Weaver is shoving sticks in the wheels of progress.

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