Creating a National Child Care and Early Learning Program
I have three kids, all born during my university and law school years. I know what it’s like to need to work or study but to also need to have professional care for my kids. I know what it’s like to contemplate putting a career on hold just because of the difficulty in arranging access to quality child care at a reasonable cost.
In other words, I know what it’s like to live the “daycare dilemma”.
And the daycare dilemma is all too real for too many Canadian families. Particularly for single parent families, child care is not a matter of choice. Parents have to work to sustain their families, and they can’t if there’s no affordable child care available. These families, and our society, suffer as a result. Equality of opportunity lies at the heart of the issue. Equality of opportunity for parents who want to work, and equality of opportunity for kids who need to get the best start in life possible.
I’m committed to finding a solution to the issue of lack of access to child care that continues to face all too many Canadians. In cooperation with the provinces and territories, I want to implement a National Child Care and Early Learning Program that will end the “daycare dilemma”. This isn’t just a social issue, but an economic issue as well – an issue of fundamental importance to our collective prosperity and competitiveness as a country.
Time to Finally Get it Right
The issue of access to child care is one that has been part of the national conversation for over 40 years. Many consider the 1970 Royal Commission on the Status of Women to be the first serious national discussion of this issue. National political parties of all stripes made promises over the following decades, with progress being blocked by a mix politics and fiscal realities. With child care largely under the purview of the provinces and territories, it is no surprise that some of the first moves towards a universal child care system have come from the provincial level. Perhaps most widely known is Quebec’s $7-a-day subsidized child care system which was put into place in the late 1990s.
During the Liberal government of Paul Martin, we finally came close to ending the “daycare dilemma”. Thanks in large part to the work of Ken Dryden, in 2005, agreements with each province were put in place and funds were set aside to set-up a national child care program. Yet, when the NDP helped bring the government down, the framework for affordable child care for all Canadians was brought down with it. The Harper government quickly cancelled the agreements with the provinces and territories in favour of sending money directly to families, worth less than $5 a day, to give them “choice.” Of course the reality is that even $5 a day is no choice at all when there aren’t enough daycare spots available, and those that are cost many times that amount. The result is a program that subsidizes a minority of families where one parent can afford to stay home, and does nothing to help the majority of two-income families that are still struggling to find child care.
For the sake of not only the equality of opportunity for all our parents and children, but also the economic prosperity of our country, it’s time to finally get this issue right.
The Economics of Child Care
Putting in place a National Child Care and Early Learning Program isn’t just a feel good social policy; it’s about good economics – plain and simple. When someone is able get out and work or further their education, it means that they can contribute to their own prosperity, that of their families, and that of their communities. It also means that they pay taxes, thus contributing to funding the very programs that allow them to work in the first place. A frequently cited study by the University of Toronto estimates that for every $1 spent on child care, $2 in social savings and increased tax revenues are gained.
The other side of this coin is that we are going through a serious labour shortage in many parts of Canada. Too many Canadian businesses are in desperate need of more skilled workers, yet the lack of child care makes it harder than it should be for so many well-educated and capable Canadians to fill that gap, simply because they can’t find a safe and affordable place to care for their children while they work or upgrade their skills. Solving the “daycare dilemma” means that parents will no longer be faced with this choice and Canadian businesses, and our economic prosperity as a nation, will benefit as a result. For example, research on Quebec’s child care program has found a significant rise in labour force participation as a result, particularly for mothers with only a high school education or less.
For anyone who thinks this isn’t a real economic issue, consider this: a 2010 Statistics Canada report found that 13.9% of women who work part-time don’t work full-time because of child care issues. Put into hard numbers, that means over 300,000 full-time workers are potentially missing from the Canadian economy because of a lack of child care options. Remember, that number doesn’t include those who are prevented from entering the labour force altogether due to the lack of available child care.
A National Child Care and Early Learning Program for Everyone
Let’s be honest – most people don’t get to choose whether they need to work, and too many children live in pretty tough circumstances. We can help those families, which is why I believe in implementing strong Canadian standards, to provide all Canadian children with access to a minimum level of care, where needed. However, as this is an area of largely provincial responsibility, a real solution won’t be found by Ottawa alone.
A National Child Care and Early Learning Program would be established in cooperation with the provinces and territories. Much of the policy work behind such a federal-provincial program has already been done through the federal-provincial agreements negotiated in 2005, which would have established accessible child care spaces in every province. The 2005 Liberal plan was based on the QUAD principles – Quality, Universally Inclusive, Accessible, and Developmental. With 10 separate federal-provincial agreements, it allowed provinces and territories the flexibility to implement programs that address their needs while ensuring basic national standards through the creation of a National Quality Framework that would have ensured evidence-based decisions were made as the agreements were implemented. A commitment was also made to change the criteria for federal infrastructure funding to help address the capital costs of child care facilities. All of this was lost when the NDP brought the Liberal government down and the new Conservative government summarily cancelled all 10 provincial agreements. It’s time to pick up where we left off and sit down with the provinces and territories again to negotiate a National Child Care and Early Learning Program that will cover every family.
So much great work has already been accomplished by committed Canadians including Margaret McCain, Fraser Mustard, Martha Friendly, and others on the issue of early learning and development and it’s time to push forward their efforts with real policy changes. I believe that we should implement a minimum standard of early learning education that will provide an enhanced level of equality of opportunity for every Canadian child. Decades ago, governments decided that all children starting at 5 or 6 years of age must receive an education – a step in the right direction but a somewhat arbitrary decision nonetheless. Today, with more and more parents of younger children working, things have changed and it’s time we reevaluate what best for our children, and by extension for our society. Again, this is an issue that can’t be solved by Ottawa alone. However, in 2005 the then Liberal government of Paul Martin showed that the federal and provincial governments can agree on this. The federal-provincial agreements that were signed contained a focus on issues such as training, recruitment, and retention of early childhood educators to ensure that not only would the child care spaces exist, but that they would provide the high-quality care and educational opportunities that parents want for their children.
The key to success on any of this is the willingness of the federal government to work with the provinces and territories on this issue. The Liberal Party I lead will work to find that level of cooperation again, and as Prime Minister I won’t hesitate to sit down with the Premiers to find a path forward to creating a National Child Care and Early Learning Program. To me, a fundamental Canadian value is that Canadians, wherever they live, should have an equal opportunity to succeed in this life—and that starts with our children.
Let’s Make It Happen!
If you agree with me and think that it’s finally time to finally solve the “daycare dilemma”, then please show your support by signing up to vote for me to be Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Together we can strengthen our economy, support all our families, and ensure that every child gets the start in life that they deserve!
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