Five Years After Cancelling the National Child Care Program: High Cost, Little Choice for Parents


February 6 marks the 5th anniversary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cancellation of a national child care program and child care advocates and women’s groups have a message for the government: Canada urgently needs a public system of early childhood education and care.

“Cancelling the national child care program has put a huge burden on low, modest and middle income families,” said Sue Delanoy of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada. “Mr. Harper claims he’s delivered ‘choice in child care’ but the facts show that for most families, the options are severely limited. What families need is a quality system that’s accessible and affordable for everyone.”

In 2006 the Conservatives’ first act in government was to terminate federal-provincial agreements that would have established a new $1 billion a year national program. Instead the government is spending twice as much on its substitute Universal Child Care Benefit which pays $100/month to parents for each child under age six. However fees for infant care in some Canadian cities can be higher than $1,200 a month.

Laurel Rothman of Campaign 2000, a national group fighting child poverty explained: “The Harper government has spent $11 billion in scarce public funds and has nothing to show. Most parents are still scrambling to find child care. Instead, we could have been building a real child care system that by now could have offered 500,000 more families a choice of quality services.”

A decline in growth of regulated child care spaces has made finding good child care even harder. Many families are forced to rely on unregulated care and on the growing for-profit child care sector. In 2008 there were regulated child care spaces for just 20 per cent of 0-5 year olds, with rural communities and children with special needs even more poorly served. International child care studies rank Canada behind even the United States and Australia.

“Five years ago, Mr. Harper made a choice that has put many parents and especially women in a tough dilemma,” said Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). “Parents who have to go to work don’t have choices. They can’t find a quality space and can’t afford the high cost. It shouldn’t be this way. A public option would give families the quality choices for their kids that all parents want.”

Child care advocates note that five years later, Harper’s choice doesn’t address the actual cost of child care, doesn’t build for the future, and makes finding quality affordable child care a serious challenge for Canadian families.

Signed by: Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada; Campaign 2000; Childcare Resource and Research Unit; Canadian Union of Public Employees; Ad-Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights; Canadian Federation of University Women


Five years on, children still wait for quality care
Toronto Star
February 4, 2011
Laurie Monsebraaten

…think back to the frigid February morning in 2006 …

Coincidentally in Ottawa that day, many harried parents were grieving an untimely death.

In his first policy announcement as prime minister, Stephen Harper took an axe to Canada’s year-old, $5-billion national child-care plan — a plan aimed at helping … and tens of thousands of young children attend affordable daycare while their mothers worked.

“It is a day that will live in infamy,” says child-care expert Martha Friendly of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, which has been tracking Canada’s lack of progress for decades.

On Thursday in the Commons, Harper’s human resources minister, Diane Finley, rubbed salt in the wound when she said reviving the national child-care program would force parents “to have other people raise their children.”

The remark, which drew outrage in Ottawa and across the country, has propelled the issue back onto the political agenda with the Liberals and NDP vowing to make child care an issue in the next federal election.

Without a national child-care plan, Canada seems doomed to remain a child-care laggard on the international stage.

A 2008 study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ranked Canada dead last with Ireland in early learning and child-care services among 25 developed countries.

Friendly’s data shows fewer than 20 per cent of Canadian children under age 6 have access to government-regulated care. Meanwhile, more than 70 per cent of mothers of young children are in the paid labour force — one of the highest workforce participation rates for mothers in the developed world.

This “child-care gap” shows how heavily families rely on informal child-care arrangements, she says.

Many of these arrangements include extended family members and trusted neighbours, and serve children and families well.

But numerous studies have shown that unregulated, home-based child-care businesses often fail to meet children’s developmental needs. Sometimes the care can be harmful….

… Sultana Jahangir, knows all too well how immigrant women and their children get lost in the city’s low-income apartment towers.

“They become isolated and depressed,” says Jahangir, who founded the South Asian Women’s Rights Organization in 2007 to push for more subsidized child care. “It is not good for their children.”

“These women need child care so they can go to school, improve their English and get work to provide for their families,” Jahangir says. “The children need it so their mothers are happy and they are ready for school.”

Few would seriously argue that finding a caregiver on the Internet or a grocery store bulletin board is an acceptable “choice” for parents who must work, especially if they are poor or newcomers to Canada, says Friendly.

According to Friendly’s most recent survey of Canadian child care in 2008, there are just 867,000 government-regulated child-care spots, barely enough for one in five kids under age 13.

“Mothers’ labour force participation is one of the most significant social shifts of the past four decades, but the child-care situation has not changed fundamentally since the 1980s,” she says.

The city of Toronto oversees about 56,600 spaces in licensed centres and home daycares. But there are just 24,000 subsidies and more than 17,000 children are on the waiting list.

Even for families that can afford the $10,000 to $15,000 yearly cost of licensed care, the lack of spaces means parents have to put their names on daycare waiting lists before their children are born.

Building a system of high-quality early-childhood care and education creates jobs and allows parents to work and pay taxes, the UNICEF report said.

Canada’s poor showing represents a lost opportunity for economic growth at a time of economic uncertainty, said the report by UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre in Florence, Italy.

“Investing in early child care and education is a key strategy to respond to current economic challenges and to promote economic stimulus and recovery,” said UNICEF Canada in its response to the report.

Ottawa must act by introducing “measurable standards, guidelines and appropriate funding for child care and solutions by July 2009,” the agency added.

The Harper government makes no apologies for its child-care policies.

Ottawa is providing “choice in child care” by sending $100 monthly cheques to parents for every child under age 6….

Some 1.5 million families receive the Universal Child Care Benefit on behalf of about 2 million children, Sparrow said. About $2.6 billion will be spent this year.

Ottawa also spends about $760 million through the Child Care Expense Deduction, which offsets child-care expenses for parents.

In addition, Ottawa transfers $1.2 billion annually to the provinces to spend on child care, Sparrow said. But it is up to provinces to determine how best to spend that money, he noted.

Under the previous Liberal government’s five-year child-care plan, $1 billion more would have been transferred to the provinces annually to build a system of high quality, affordable and accessible care. The chance to create almost 240,000 more government-funded spaces was lost when Harper derailed the plan, estimates the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada.

The $12 billion Harper has spent sending child-care cheques to parents since 2006 could have provided high quality child care for another 500,000 children by now, advocates say….

Neither the Liberals nor the NDP would scrap the $100 cheques.

But both parties would return to building a national child-care system.

NDP child-care critic Olivia Chow says the cornerstone of her party’s plan would be legislation to ensure federal money earmarked for child care goes toward high quality, affordable, accessible and non-profit care.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says “a national system of early learning and child care for every child that needs it” is one of his top three or four priorities.

If elected, he would work with the provinces and child-care experts and move quickly to make up for lost time.

“Everywhere I go I see queues, people waiting; it’s an urgent demand of Canadian families,” he said in an interview. “It will be a commitment in the first Liberal budget.”

Ignatieff would not indicate how much the Liberals would invest, but said it would be “substantial” and “fully costed” in the party’s platform when an election is called….

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