A New Approach to Child Care

The pursuit of economic justice includes a national child care system.

Canada needs a universal public system of high quality early childhood education and care (ECEC). ECEC is a central pillar of children’s well-being, women’s economic security, and economic prosperity. For Canadians across the income spectrum, it is essential, not a frill.  

As indicated by a 2016 OECD report, Canadian families spend almost one-quarter of their income on child care. This ratio is much higher than in other parts of the world. The burden is more significant for single parents who spend on average almost a third of their income on child care.

Childcare costs are a major issue for young people, especially women. Many women are forced to take time away from the workforce thus exacerbating the economic insecurity many face.

The federal government can and must take immediate and proper action to start building—with provinces/territories – an alternative for the benefit of children, parents, employers, early childhood educators and the economy. My building blocks for a new approach to child care will provide immediate relief for families and make possible a full universal child care system for all families by 2028.

Canada’s NDP has always been a leader in calling for accessible child care. I am proud to have done that work, in solidarity with child care advocates and activists across Canada, as the former Status of Women’s Critic.

I am committed to the principles of social and economic justice for all – and when Canada’s NDP forms government in 2019, implementing a universal public system of high quality child care will be a top priority.

A policy framework enshrining cross jurisdictional commitments to ECEC everywhere in Canada.  This framework will be based on the principles of:

  • Universality: access to affordable child care as an entitlement for all parents who want it.
  • High quality: Programs based on best evidence to ensure that children aged 0 –  5 have the best possible care and early childhood education, which are inseparable.
  • Inclusive: Programs designed to ensure full participation of children with special needs.
  • Comprehensive: A range of services to accommodate families’ different needs including those working part-time, non-standard hours or not employed, and in rural and remote areas.

A related but distinct ELCC policy framework enshrining federal commitments with respect to Indigenous children, parents and communities developed through consultation and negotiation with Canada’s Indigenous representatives.

A federal Early Childhood Education and Child Care Act that would, like the Canada Health Act, specify the conditions and criteria which provincial/territorial governments must meet to receive federal funds.  Any proposed federal legislation would allow for special arrangements with the province of Quebec in line with the Sherbrooke Declaration.

A national strategy for research and data collection would be put in place to allow for progress reports to Canadians and federal Parliament by the Minister responsible.

Federal transfer funds to support provinces, territories and Indigenous communities in achieving national standards. A substantial, long-term federal funding commitment to provinces/territories is required to achieve implementation of the national commitments. Publicly funding child care organizations, researchers and experts to ensure the democratic participation of parents, early childhood educators and the broader community in building the child care system Canada needs, and to ensure that government decisions are evidence-based.

This requires a federal partner at the table to ensure provinces, territories and First Nations are set up to succeed.

This means:

  • The principles of a public system would ensure that child care programs would become substantially publicly-funded through direct operational funding so quality of care and the very survival of programs are not dependent on parent fees and ineffective fee subsidy schemes. Parent fees would be regulated, as is now the case in Quebec, PEI and Manitoba, and they would be geared-to-income based on family income and the family’s child care costs. Parent fees would be eliminated altogether over time.
  • Ear-marked federal funds to ensure provinces, territories and First Nations address the child care workforce crisis including shortages of well-trained educators; inadequate wages, benefits and working conditions; lack of ongoing professional development and post-secondary training opportunities; high staff turnover.
  • Working closely with provinces, territories and First Nations to create deliverable action plans and timelines to ensure a transition that meets the needs of families.
  • Working closely with provinces, territories and First Nation to move to public management of child care; allow expansion only in the not-for-profit child care sector; and arrive at a fully not-for-profit system by 2028. 

As an essential companion to universal child care, I would also transform EI maternity and parental leave policy to:

  • ensure that it becomes available and affordable to all new parents;
  • becomes better aligned with ECEC policy and programs, and
  • is made equitable across regions, social class, gender, family and employment type (such as self- or precarious employment or students), and special circumstances such as multiple births or medical need.