Federal Election 2011: Where does Child Care Fit In?


Canada is headed towards its 41st election on May 2nd, 2011. Parents, child care workers, and allies all want to know how child care will fit in to party platforms and where the needs of our families and communities fall in their list of priorities.

Liberal Party

On Thursday March 31st, Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, announced his party's platform on early learning and child care.

In effort to create new child care spaces, they will invest $500 Million in the first budget to create an "Early Childhood Learning and Care Fund" which will grow to $1 Billion annually in the fourth year. This funding would be magnified by provincial investments, and is a step in the right direction towards meeting the needs of Canadian families, children, and communities.

This is not a national child care program, but it is a significant investment, and would see the creation of new, affordable child care spaces across the country. Information on the plan can be found starting on p. 23 of the liberal platform. Click here for the entire platform.

We’ve already seen leadership from some provinces, particularly Quebec. But due to the lack of federal leadership, Canada receives failing grades from international bodies, including the OECD and UNICEF, for having no coordinated, national early childhood learning and care policy. Working parents, amid all their other pressures, often struggle with waiting lists for the limited number of existing spaces. That wait can often last years.

Administered as a new social infrastructure fund, provinces and territories will be able to apply to the Fund for cost-sharing of early childhood learning and care plans
that create and operate new, affordable, high-quality early childhood learning and care spaces across Canada, with well-trained professional staff. The long-term goal is a high-quality, affordable early childhood learning and care space for every Canadian family that wants one. But the federal government cannot do this on its own. It will require sustained collaboration among all governments. As implementation of the Fund ramps up joint investment, a Liberal government will also work with other governments on the research, policy development, and sharing of best practices for the system necessary to meet this long-term goal. This plan will support innovation and different approaches at the provincial and community level. (pp. 23-24, Liberal Platform 2011)


New Democrats (NDP)

Strong supporters of the National Child Care Program that was cut by the Conservative Government in 2006, the NDP have remained strong advocates for high quality affordable child care.

The NDP's child care critic, Olivia Chow, made it very clear at her campaign office opening in Trinity-Spadina, Toronto that a national child care program was a key priority for her and the NDP.

The New Democrats released their platform on Sunday, April 10th, repeatedly emphasizing the need to make life more affordable for Canadian families. This is backed with a commitment to increase access to affordable, high quality child care across the country.

We will work with the provinces and territories to establish and fund a Canada-wide child care and early learning program, enshrined in law, with the following goals:

  • The creation of 25,000 new child care spaces per year for the next four years;
  • Improvements to community infrastructure to support the growth of child care spaces;
  • The creation of integrated, community-based, child-centred early learning and education centres that provide parents with a “one-stop shop” for family services.

From the NDP Platform, page 5. Click here to read the entire platform.

The main element that sets this platform apart from the Liberal platform is the element of legislation. By legislating a national obligation improve the accessibility of early learning and child care programs, we would ensure that no matter who was elected, the future of child care and early learning in Canada was secure. (In contrast to the cut of the national child care program in 2006).


Conservative Party

To read the Conservative Party platform, please click here. The section on families and children, begins on page 25. There is no funding included for child care and early learning or intention to expand the availability of child care and early childhood education programming.

One of the first policy announcements that Stephen Harper made as Prime Minister of Canada was that he intended to cut $5 billion dollars from child care funding, and cancel the national child care program.

He replaced the program that would have provided high quality, affordable, child care spaces for children across the country with the Universal Child Care Benefit. This taxable benefit amounts to $100/month for every family with a child under 6. With child care costing $40 to $60 per day per child, this does little to help families afford the services they need, and does nothing to provide more spaces. There are only child care spaces for about %20 of Canada's children. In the past 5 years, the national child care program would have created 500,000 high quality, affordable programs for Canada's children and cost less than half as much as the UCCB.


Background and Information on the 2011 Federal Budget

On Tuesday, March 22nd, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented the federal budget for 2011. While there were small initiatives for families, mostly in the form of tax cuts, the majority of the focus is on Conservative priorities - not the priorities of Canadian families and communities.

To read the budget, please click here. To read Minister Flaherty's speech, click here. A brief overview of the budget can be found here.

The budget was immediately rejected by all three opposition parties. Liberal finance critic Scott Brisson said that the House of Commons should not support the budget "because the government and its policies are out of touch with the economic needs and priorities of Canadian families."

Even though none of the opposition parties would vote in favour of the budget, amendments and lengthy debate are unlikely to happen as the Liberals plan to use their opposition day on Friday March 25th to put forward a non-confidence vote related to the findings of a parliamentary committee, released earlier this week, finding the government in contempt of parliament. This means Canada is likely headed towards an election this spring.

Along with the opposition parties, many organizations were quick to respond to the budget, saying it does not fit with the needs of Canadian families. Following in the tradition of the same government that cancelled the national child care program, there is no new news regarding child care in this year's budget.

It is important to note that this budget comes at a time when national child care has recently reappeared on the public agenda as a need (and right) of Canadian families. 

Campaign 2000 says that rather than urgently needed social support, this government has opted to measure out tidbits on coffee spoons. In their press release they argue:

There is nothing for the most vulnerable families -- especially the 610,000 low income children and their mothers -- who feel the double burden of job loss at the workplace and increased economic stress at home. And there is nothing at all that even hints at a vision for the future to support modern-day families.

"Going into this budget, Campaign 2000 looked for a mix of social infrastructure and income supports to prevent further poverty and to reduce our 9.1% rate of child and family poverty. Instead, it is silent on early childhood education and care, post-secondary education, and affordable housing. Nor is there any enhancement to the child benefit which low income working parents need to enable them to pay the rent and feed the children," said Laurel Rothman, National Coordinator of Campaign 2000.

For the full media release, please click here.

On top of the lack of investment in social support, the Public Service Alliance of Canada also points out that the budget also proposes an examination of spending on programs with the aim of cutting $4 billion.

Meanwhile, the government announced that it would be conducting a government-wide Strategic and Operating Review that will examine $80 billion of program spending with the goal of cutting $4 billion. Instead of investing this money in quality public services for Canadians, the Conservatives will be making this gift to the richest corporations in Canada.

For more of the PSAC's response as well as background information on corporate tax cuts as well as the value of investing in child care, please click here.

This is a time for investments in our communities and citizens, not cuts to social programs in favour of corporate tax cuts.

For an analysis of the budget from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, explaining the importance of fair taxation, investment in public services (and thus job creation), and how the tax cuts aimed at families will only result in $75 in tax savings to most families instead of creating programs they desperately need such as child care, please click here.

Before the budget was released we had heard a great deal of talk about the changing Canadian family, and the ways in which our social services are not keeping up. The YWCA released its report Educated, Employed and Equal emphasizing women's high rates of higher education and employment in the paid workforce, and the critical need for a national child care strategy. Students in Toronto rallied to call for a National Child Care system. And yet there is no sense of a forward-thinking government that plans to move in a direction that will support today's families reflected in this budget.

This feeling is echoed in the press release from the United Food and Commercial Workers:

"For many UFCW Canada members the ability to juggle work with family is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive," says President Hanley. "This budget does nothing to support working families. What is needed is a universal publicly funded child care program that will provide affordable public child care and education. A child care system that will create jobs and help grow the economy."

To read the full release, please click here.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argues that the priorities of this government are not the priorities of Canadian families:

“For every dollar the Harper budget allocates to Canadians’ priorities—such as helping seniors and cleaning up the environment—it devotes 7.5 dollars for Conservative priorities such as jails and corporate tax cuts,” says CCPA Alternative Federal Budget Coordinator David Macdonald. “The fact is an extra $50 dollars for arts classes doesn't get you affordable child care, it doesn't lower university tuition, and it doesn't move the line any faster at the emergency room. The federal government can and should be tackling these big problems."

For more from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, please click here. For the Alternative Federal Budget 2011, click here.

The YWCA took the opportunity to point out the absence of a national child care strategy, leaving working mothers without safe and affordable options for their children. Ann Decter, YWCA Canada’s Director of Advocacy and Public Policy. “That makes child care an economic stimulus. Silence on that front today is a failure to understand the times.” Furthermore, they argue that a massive investment in prisons does not make women safer and does not help improve the quality of their lives and the lives of their children. For more information, please click here.