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Want cheap day care? Consider Canada.

This week, Parliament debates a Quebec model of subsidizing child care, in which parents pay US$6 per day.

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Bridget Wayland lives just 100 feet from the American border, but pays only $7 Canadian a day in child-care costs for her son, Sebastian.

That's far less than her neighbors to the south might pay, where day care costs on average $18 per day according to 2005 US Census figures.

"I couldn't possibly have kept my job if I didn't have full-time day care," says Ms. Wayland, who works out of her home in Frelighsburg, Quebec, as a magazine writer and editor.

Since Quebec's day-care plan was introduced in 1997, it has increased the number of working mothers in two-parent families by 21 percent - more than double the rate in the rest of the country.

This week, Parliament will debate whether to create a nationwide subsidized child-care system based on the Quebec model. The hotly debated issue could turn into the first political test for the newly elected Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Last summer, the Liberals promised $5 billion (Canadian; US$4.3 billion)to increase Canada's child-care capacity over the next five years. Mr. Harper's Conservatives, who defeated the Liberals in January elections, favor an annual stipend of $1,200 (all dollar figures are Canadian) for families with young children to spend as they see fit.

But in a surprise concession to Liberals, the Conservative government promised in an official speech Tuesday to provide funding for more child-care spaces. No specifics were given, however; Parliament must hash them out, and some commentators say the contentious issue could be the one Liberals use to bring down the government and call for new elections within a year.


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