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Childcare policy must be pillar of economic recovery plan: report

12 year old girl wearing a reusable, protective face mask in classroom while working on school work at her desk.

Women need to be at the forefront of plans for economic recovery from COVID-19, specifically through regulatory policies that accommodate childcare and a safe school environment, says a new report.

Co-written by the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and YWCA Canada, the report titled “A Feminist Recovery Plan for Canada: Making the economy work for everyone” highlights various policy recommendations to the government that help those most affected by the pandemic including women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ+ community.

It noted that supporting a social infrastructure for the care economy is “vital for an equitable economic recovery,” which has revealed severe vulnerabilities because of coronavirus. The care economy refers to the both paid and unpaid work related to the process of caring for another person.

“Care work - both unpaid and paid - is extraordinarily gendered. Prior to the pandemic, women in Canada were already doing 1.5 more hours of unpaid domestic work per day on average, more than men,” the report said.

Some recommendations include adopting the OECD benchmark of allocating at least one per cent of GDP to early learning and childcare; creating a “National Child Care Secretariat” to track government spending and programs; ensuring childcare is part of the policy discussion in reopening of schools and childcare centres; and directing public funds to existing care services.

During a panel discussion on the report, panellist and economist Armine Yalnizyan said the rest of Canada should look to Quebec and take on policies that have helped women re-enter the workforce with the help of good policies.

“Quebec went from having fewer women working as a share of the population for decades to now outstripping the rest of the country, why? Because it has subsidized childcare. It literally pays for itself in Quebec,” she said. “For every $100 of subsidized childcare the Quebec government received $104 in new income tax revenue.”

Jennifer Reynolds, president and CEO of Toronto Finance International, said in an interview that while the economy reopens, many women might have been cut from work, or might not be able to do their work remotely and are not able to go back to work without finding adequate childcare support.

“The women that need childcare the most, they should have good childcare when they do go back to their jobs. And there are a lot of women who can’t do jobs at home, we have to be able to provide [childcare] to them and give them a chance to be in the workforce,” she said.

A July 2020 RBC report added that the benefits of women participating in the labour market equally with men “would provide a lift to economic output of about $100 billion per year.” It added that COVID-19 has “created a hole which will take a long time to fill - ensuring that women return to the labour market is critical to Canada’s recovery and ongoing success.”

“We need to be looking at other countries around the world where there is better childcare,” Reynolds said. “In Scandinavia we see higher participation rates of women in the workforce [because they have good childcare policies]. There is a correlation.”

Parents “concerned” with returning children back to childcare

On July 29, Statistics Canada released new data that indicated 49 per cent of parents were not going to send children back to childcare services “because they were concerned about the health of their child or other members of their household.”

Reynolds said this was a bigger issue because even if the government put in place rules that would support childcare and if people weren’t using it because they were worried about health and safety then it would be a waste of time.

“We have to figure out, in this interim period of getting people comfortable, what that will look like, and that means involving medical professionals, the government, experts in a room coming up with what we think is safe in this period,” she said.

Ontario announces plan to re-open schools

On July 30, the Ontario government announced its plans for students returning to school. Elementary school children will return to school five days per week, which includes recess and lunch, and class sizes won’t change. Students in grades 4 to 12 are required to wear non-medical masks, while students in lower grades will be encouraged to do so but aren’t required.

Twenty-four designated secondary school boards will have classes with 15 students and students will attend classes on alternate days or alternate schedules. Other schools will return to having classes five days per week with full attendance.

Schools will also see timing changes for recess, lunches and bathroom breaks

Ontario’s plan adds that parents will continue to have an option to enroll their children in remote online learning, “which respects their fundamental role in making the final determination of whether they feel safe with their children returning to school.”

The government says it will spend over $300 million in new money in “targeted immediate, and evidence-informed investments.”

This includes medical and cloth masks for students and staff, teacher staffing to support supervision and keeping classes small, hiring up to 500 school-focused nurses, more testing capacity, hiring 900 additional custodians, and to purchase cleaning supplies, funding to clean busses, health and safety training for occasional teachers, supporting special needs students, and supporting student mental health.

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