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

Transcript from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, Pre-budget Consultations, October 20, 2017 (Toronto, ON)

Ms. Morna Ballantyne (Executive Director, Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada)

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I’m pleased to represent Canada’s umbrella child care advocacy organization. Our mission, which we’ve been pursuing now for 35 years, is to work with all levels of government to make high-quality, affordable early learning and child care available to all children.

In answer to the two specific questions that your committee has asked us to address, we submit that the Canadian economy can be more productive and competitive through two measures: first, a significant increase in the child care federal spending already allocated in the previous federal budget; and second, an expanded and more robust federal child care policy framework.

We’re pleased that the federal government has re-entered the arena of early learning and child care, but we’re here to say that the work is far from done. The 2016 and 2017 federal budgets combined commit $7.5 billion for early learning and child care over 11 fiscal periods starting in 2017. Under the plan, the annual spending rises incrementally each year until it reaches just under $900 million in the final years.

To understand the deficiency of this commitment we ask you to put it in perspective. The accepted international benchmark for a country’s annual spending on early learning and child care is a minimum of 1% of GDP, which several OECD countries exceed. Canada spends less than 0.3% of GDP, and it’s been ranked as the lowest spender among 25 peer wealthy countries.

The multilateral child care agreement that the federal government signed with the provinces and announced in June 2017 was a significant accomplishment, but it leaves in place wide gaps in quality, in affordability, and in access. Those gaps will get wider, not narrower, over the 11 years. This is because it does not compel a move away from the current market-based patchwork approach to child care.

We provided this committee the economic arguments for child care spending on many previous occasions over the years, but there is yet more new research evidence to support what we have said. A research report recently released by the International Monetary Fund identified that increasing women’s participation in the paid workforce is key, not just necessary but central, to speeding up labour productivity and growth in Canada. The report states that if just the current gap of seven percentage points between male and female labour force participation were eliminated, the level of real GDP could be about 4% higher today.

Every IMF researcher confirms that the full potential of the female labour force cannot be tapped in the absence of child care services. The IMF report proposes that the federal government spend $8 billion a year directed at reducing child care parent fees by an average of 40%. They say that even if just those women who are now staying at home and who have high educational attainment were to take advantage of lower fees, enter the workforce, and start paying taxes, not only would the economy significantly expand but the additional tax revenue would fully compensate for the cost of the program.

We stress, though, that child care spending and policy must not be driven by economic and productivity objectives alone. They must also be geared to the development and well-being of children, and to addressing women’s economic security, to reducing poverty, and finally, to honouring truth and reconciliation.

Our 2018 budget proposal is far more modest than that of the IMF researchers, at least in monetary terms. We recommend a federal early learning and child care allocation in the 2018 budget of $1 billion, and importantly, with a requirement that provinces, territories, and indigenous communities use the funds to make fundamental child care system reforms. This allocation should be increased by an additional $1 billion in each subsequent fiscal period until Canada reaches the international benchmark of 1% of GDP in current dollars.

Second, we ask you to recognize that the work of developing an evidence-based federal child-care policy framework is not done. The federal government must go back to the table with the provinces and the territories, and this time must fully involve the child care stakeholders, including parents, including our own organization—we were not involved—to draw up a plan with timelines, goals, and meaningful accountability measures; a plan that recognizes child care as a public good and a human right, not a commodity; and one that has as its objective building a non-profit, inclusive child care system to provide high-quality child care for all who want it.