It's time for child care for all - Des services de garde éducatifs pour tous

Expert submission to the Federal Ministry of Finance for pre-2020-21 federal budget consultations.

Child Care Now was founded as the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada in 1982 to act on behalf of organizations and individuals who want high quality, affordable, and inclusive early learning and child care to be available for all families, and all children, regardless of where they live, and regardless of their circumstances.

For decades we have argued that the federal government must take the lead in developing a Canada-wide system of early learning and child care based on publicly funded and publicly managed supply of high quality, universally accessible, flexible and affordably services. We have made numerous evidence-based submissions over many years explaining why such a system is essential for the well-being of children, necessary for women to achieve economic security, and crucial for growing Canada’s economy.

It has taken a public health crisis to prove our argument. There is now broad consensus on the need for government intervention. The 2020 Speech from the Throne promised significant, sustained federal funding for the construction of a Canada-wide system of early learning and child care.

Statistics Canada’s labour force surveys since the outbreak of COVID-19 confirm the devastating impact of the pandemic on women’s employment, and particularly on the employment of mothers with children under the age of 12.  Getting women back into the paid labour force is critical to women’s economic security. But increasing women’s labour force participation is also crucial to a sustainable economic recovery for everyone. The construction of an accessible, affordable, quality, inclusive system of child care is essential if Canada is to forge a resilient and just future, and also become the best possible place for children.

Child care in Canada must be transformed

Child care in Canada was fragile before the pandemic hit because it is market-based, fragmented, and under-funded. Parents in Canada are forced to purchase services from a child care market—some of which is regulated and some not, some of which is not-for-profit and some a source of profit.  It’s a market that offers a confusing array of scarce offerings, too many of which are of poor quality, and almost all of which are unaffordable for most families.  It contributes to, and exacerbates, economic and social inequity: Indigenous families, racialized families, and low-income households are disproportionately shutout.

The child care market is also particularly bad at meeting the needs of children with disabilities, children whose parents work non-standard or irregular hours, or children who live in rural and remote communities.

The market-approach works no better for child care providers. Almost all programs outside of Quebec rely primarily on parent fee revenue to stay in operation. The predominantly female workforce earns low wages and any raise in compensation translates into higher parent fees. Inadequate compensation has made the recruitment and retention of qualified early childhood educators a perpetual serious concern.

Leaving the provision of care to the market doesn’t work for child care any better than it would for health care, primary education or secondary education, or countless other areas where governments have intervened for the benefit of all Canadians, and because it makes economic sense to do so.

COVID-19 exposed all the problems with market-based child care and the absence of a fully publicly funded and publicly managed child care system.

When provinces and territories ordered child care programs to close during the emergency response phase of the pandemic (with limited services for essential workers), the sector was disrupted in a way that it was not for public education or other parts of the public sector.

The level of disruption depended on the approach taken by each provincial and territorial government. Where necessary support was provided, the child care programs are in a much better position to reopen and respond to the needs of children and parents.

A survey of licensed child care centres in Canada carried out in May 2020 found that more than one-third of the centres across Canada at that time were uncertain they would ever reopen. Although governments have failed to properly report on the current state of child care, our information is that the sector is barely surviving. Many licensed childcare providers—centres and family home day cares—have been able to stay functioning only because they are receiving federal support through the COVID relief programs. When the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program winds up in June 2021, we expect many will close their doors permanently.

Major government intervention in early learning and child care is needed and the federal government must lead the reconstruction by providing policy direction, by applying its spending power to respond to the immediate economic and social fallout of COVID-19—and to set the foundation for longer-term system-building.

Child Care Now asks that the 2021-22 federal budget confirm early learning and child care as critical social infrastructure and commit to moving gradually to putting in place a fully universally inclusive, fully publicly funded and publicly managed high quality system that all parents can afford. We recommend the following first building blocks be included in the budget:

  • $2 billion in one-time supplemental spending to support the immediate safe and full recovery of regulated early learning and child care, and to respond to the immediate care needs of school-age children through the pandemic. Unlike the $625 million ear-marked for child care in the Safe Restart Agreement, the $2 billion recovery funding would be directed through the provinces/territories to boost direct operational funding of the licensed early learning and child care sector with the following immediate objectives:
    • Restoration of the number of licensed child care and early learning spaces to pre-pandemic levels
    • Increases in wages and other compensation to retain and bring back qualified early childhood educators to the sector
    • Stabilization of parent fees and reductions to the extent possible
  • A boost in on-going early learning and child care spending (beyond what was allocated in the 2017 federal budget) of $2 billion in 2021-22, and an additional $2 billion year after (that is, $4 billion in 2022-23, $6 billion in 2023-24, etc.). These new federal funds, combined with the 2017 federal budget allocations and the $420 million promised in the fall economic statement for workforce recruitment and retention measures, should be used by the federal government to move Canada towards a fully publicly funded and publicly managed system, in partnership with the provinces/territories and Indigenous governments.
  • 20 per cent of the new funding as well as the previous annual allocation budgeted in 2017 should be earmarked to support the Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework. The distribution and use of funds for Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care should be decided by the Indigenous Peoples responding to the distinct needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation.
  • The federal government should require the provinces and territories use federal funds to fund the supply of licensed early learning and child care. Each province/territory should be required to develop a plan, in full consultation with the sector and other stakeholders, to improve simultaneously the availability, affordability and quality of the supply of licensed early learning and child care programs, and to ensure that programs are made inclusive, flexible and responsive.
  • To address (and improve) quality, it is imperative that the budget specifically commit to the development and implementation of an early learning and child care workforce strategy that includes raising the wages and improving employee benefits of early childhood educators, leaders and others in the sector. The workforce strategy must also include measures to raise the formal qualifications of early childhood educators and provide for of those who work in the sector on going professional development.
  • Importantly, expansion should be limited to the not-for-profit and public early learning and child care sectors. While it would be difficult and wrong to deny existing for-profit licensed programs with public funding, measures must be taken to ensure that public dollars are used to improve programs not profit margins.

Submitted by
Morna Ballantyne
Executive Director,
Child Care Now – Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada
February 19, 2021