On Tuesday, Canada’s provinces agreed to increase benefits to be paid to parents to up to $10,000 per child per year and Canada’s public broadcasting system, CTV News reported, in part to hold down costs for its own network and to preserve the autonomy of a set of channels it owns.
In Canada, child care is defined as care that is age-appropriate, affordable and structured with adequate family support, and the federal government — before becoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — advocated that child care facilities should be publicly funded. The current system is centred on the provision of publicly subsidized family daycare facilities and also includes access to publicly financed child care in preschool.
In what has come to be known as the “daycare deal,” federal social programs in Ontario and the Canadian capital have been linked to a deal between provinces and Ottawa that began in 1993. Ottawa has continued to intervene in the daycare system in addition to broader issues of the universal child care benefit, providing $533 million over the next three years, a promise reached under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
While the broad foundation of Canada’s child care system is settled, it remains up for negotiation. The middle class, and its children, depend on that decision.
The role of child care in the economic and social development of Canada is neither controversial nor unknown: It is the cornerstone of recent trends in related work. One in four children in Canada between two and six years old were raised in a home with a pre-kindergarten program. According to a 2011 OECD-funded survey, Canada’s kindergarten system was well ahead of other OECD countries’. And the OECD has reported an increase in demand for childcare services in both Canada and the United States.
Already two in five parents in Ontario, or 6.5 million people, have careers that are difficult to balance with care of their own children. Thus, the connection between child care and the aspirations of many Canadian families is well established. In “Social Mobility: The Impact of Child Care,” an MUNY political science study on child care in Canada, researchers concluded that by removing barriers to work and early childhood education, child care “could spur … specific social changes and economies.”
Even one-third child care per year, government programs in Canada and Ontario agreed on, would mean that by the time Canada’s oldest child turned six, 87 percent of that child’s parents would have access to the universal child care benefit. There are other benefits to ensuring that parents are able to finish their education, work to earn a living, and raise their children with the knowledge, experience and tools to address their own aspirations.
According to a 2011 study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, one in four Canadians between two and six years old were raised in a home with a pre-kindergarten program.
This is no fringe issue. It is, in fact, a bedrock of the life experiences of countless Canadian families. To leave it unresolved would be a disservice to those children.
But if the current front of negotiations is for the federal government to increase parental assistance and interest payments on existing programs, then Ottawa must not push Canada into a new front that asks provinces and federal leaders to make yet more commitments in new arenas. The deal that has been struck is a stable foundation.
Changes like those requested in the past by the Trudeau government, whether on taxes or retirement benefits, will inevitably require voters’ input. And there must be sufficient certainty for both provincial and federal leaders — including Mr. Trudeau — that they will get strong and fair constituencies’ buy-in.
Like his recent spring budget, Mr. Trudeau has demonstrated his desire to include tax policy that will have a profound impact on Canadian families’ budgets. He should know that the cost of daycare plays no role in determining the affordability of a family’s income. Raising $1.1 billion dollars from the wealthy will be paid for with tax increases on high earners. But let’s not have fathers rely on any new or existing incentives to watch their kids when they could be out having a beer. Let’s not have pay day loans raise their eyebrows. Let’s not assume that businesses will continue to offer child care benefits when it becomes clear that government is no longer willing to step in and take care of its citizens’ most basic needs.
Canada’s child care system is untidy. But it doesn’t need an overhaul.