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Child care experts say they're looking for sustained funding in federal budget

·3 min read
Children are pictured with their daycare workers at Bee Haven Childcare Centre in North Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday Oct. 9, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Children are pictured with their daycare workers at Bee Haven Childcare Centre in North Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday Oct. 9, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The Liberal government has been dropping heavy hints that Monday's budget sets aside money to establish an accessible national child care program — but child care advocates say that funding has to be around for the long haul.

"You need money to be there, and to be there in a sustainable way," said Catherine Haeck, a professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal who has researched the Quebec child care model.

Quebec's subsidized system, which provides daycare spots to parents at less than $10 a day, is often cited by federal officials as a model that could be used to create a national program.

"If we take the Quebec experiment, if you want to call it that, it did take a long time to implement the whole system," Haeck said in an interview airing today on CBC's political affairs program The House.

"So it does take a long-term commitment. It's not something that will happen overnight."

Haeck said that funding earmarked for child care in the upcoming budget will need to ramp up in the coming years to establish a national system.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have signalled that Monday's budget will start the work of creating a national child care system.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have signalled that Monday's budget will start the work of creating a national child care system.(Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has said in recent weeks that the pandemic has given the government an opening to address shortages of child care services because of the strain the emergency has put on parents — and women in particular.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has echoed that message, calling child care "fundamentally an economic program" that "we need to do as a country."

It's not clear how much funding there is in the budget for child care — Freeland's first budget as finance minister and the government's first in two years — but a recent report from the House of Commons finance committee said the minimum starting point for a national program should be $2 billion.

Go big, say child care advocates

Experts said the initial funding amount should grow gradually in subsequent years.

"We have to be able to invest in building the workforce, creating the spaces, investing in capital and infrastructure," Sheridan College early childhood education professor Monica Lysack told CBC's The House.

Lysack has advised previous Liberal governments on this issue of a national child care system and was a Liberal candidate in two previous elections.

She said the problem with child care in Canada is twofold: women are struggling to pay high fees for their children's care, while those who work in child care are paid far too little for their services.

Child care is a provincial responsibility, and child care advocates say they expect the budget to include measures to push the provinces to set up their own programs.

But many warn a national system needs to be flexible enough to meet the needs of parents in different parts of the country — and to bring the provinces on-side.

Former prime minister Paul Martin tried and failed to establish a national child care system.
Former prime minister Paul Martin tried and failed to establish a national child care system.(Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

"Provinces have been burned before on child care, so they will be looking for a large commitment as well as a long term commitment," Lysack said, referring to former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin's attempt at a national child care program, which failed when he lost power in 2005.

She said she thinks provinces are ready to work with Ottawa to improve access, citing recent moves toward universal child care in Yukon and British Columbia.

Canadian families spend almost a quarter of their income on child care, one of the highest amounts in the world, according to a 2016 study by the OECD.

Lysack said the fractured system was at a breaking point already before the pandemic hit.

"It took a pandemic to show our already fragile system just can't survive this," Lysack said.

"If it's taken this moment where women have been driven out of the workforce in droves to actually get us to do it, I'm OK with that."