There’s a hidden childcare crisis brewing in Canada

Written by Sabrina Sojabara, CNN When the federal government rolled out its proposed changes to Canada’s Child Care Benefit in December 2017, it was expected to save the government $6.5 billion over the next…

There’s a hidden childcare crisis brewing in Canada

Written by Sabrina Sojabara, CNN

When the federal government rolled out its proposed changes to Canada’s Child Care Benefit in December 2017, it was expected to save the government $6.5 billion over the next two years.

This is not the first time the government has floated savings from its Child Care Benefit, a cash subsidy paid to low-income families. However, in September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that the scheme had been a “mistake” and promised to renew “its commitment to more flexible childcare options.”

It did not come to fruition, so however ambitious the Liberal Party government’s pre-election childcare plan was — the proposal promised free licensed daycare — it did not come to pass. The government will now turn to a childcare strategy that economists say would increase Canada’s GDP by at least $13 billion by 2022-23

How does Ontario and Ottawa differ?

Ontario has always been among the most progressive parts of Canada in the early childhood space. The province has invested more in its child care sector, with hundreds of new daycares and early learning programs, which are funded by governments.

Its challenges are twofold. Its residents are also — compared to the population of other provinces — richer, and it has more people working in the service sector. A report by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty found that low-income Ontarians earn 30% less than their counterparts in other parts of Canada.

The federal Child Care Benefit is also quite generous, and while wealthier parents will receive higher subsidies, families may qualify for the benefit regardless of their economic circumstances.

Ottawa needs to take Toronto’s view

Meanwhile, municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Ottawa have been pressing for the federal government to bolster the care sector, while it works on a federal childcare policy. In a draft letter submitted to Trudeau in March, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) said that Ottawa “is failing to provide the services, programs and supports that Ontarians, particularly in the GTA and Ottawa Region, need in order to obtain the minimum standard of quality early childhood education and care” and that “continued inaction is not acceptable.”

The FCM said that Ottawa was taking too long to respond to the growing demand for support. “The federal government has built public infrastructure that must be updated to meet current demand,” said National President Julie Boulet. “This means strengthening early childhood programs in the early childhood education and care system, and support for youth programs that enhance adult participation in the labour market.”

The FCM plans to hand its concerns to Ottawa on Wednesday.

The Toronto city council in April expressed its support for an improved federal childcare plan and called on both Ontario and federal governments to build on “decades of success” in providing quality early care and learning.

Chantal Vallerand, the executive director of the Alliance to End Child Poverty, said that Toronto’s planning, which takes into account the needs of low-income families and the needs of young people, has seen reduced poverty over the last 20 years and improved overall poverty outcomes. “I think this is one of the more successful models for reducing poverty,” Vallerand told CNN.

“We would prefer that Ottawa to really develop a federal strategy in a collaborative and supportive way.”

Vallerand said that, while the principles of Ottawa’s plan are laudable, it was still too simplistic.

The centrepiece of Trudeau’s plan is a $6.4 billion, 10-year “Child Care Benefit” promised in 2016 as part of the Liberals’ 2016 election platform. It means families with children will receive between $200 and $2,400 per child per year, depending on income.

Vallerand said that that benefit for a couple would take some of the pressure off, but that high-income families were largely covered by Ontario’s system.

“These are subsidies paid to people who are earning $170,000 a year, and I don’t know what good that does,” Vallerand said. “But $200 to $400 for a poor family with kids is a big help.”

What Ontario needs is more resources. Cailtin Brander, director of the Child Care Resource and Research Unit at the University of Guelph, told CNN that there needed to be a “100% increase in the childcare sector over the next 10 years.”

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