Lack of child care still a barrier – comment/editorial – Lack of child care still a barrier
March 08, 2008

Today, as the world marks International Women’s Day, the theme is “Shaping Progress,” celebrating how far women have come since the day was first marked in the early 1900s.

And there are victories to celebrate, particularly women’s growing role on court benches, their place in universities and their prowess on athletic fields. But in the power fields of business and politics, women remain shockingly under-represented. And in any field, to get ahead women have to make many personal sacrifices.

Part of the reason is the appalling lack of accessible, affordable child care in Canada. Only one child in six in Canada under the age of 12 has access to licensed daycare. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government killed the Liberal program to give the provinces $5 billion over five years to create 100,000 new regulated spaces. It was replaced with a $100 a month grant to parents for each child under the age of 6, not enough to buy more than a few days of care.

Affordability can only become a bigger problem if multinational companies like Australia’s ABC Learning Centres set up shop in Canada. In Australia, this has led to big-box child care, with skyrocketing costs to parents, poorly paid workers and deteriorating quality.

ABC made millions in Australia and elsewhere in the world by profiting from government child-care subsidies. So, it is encouraging that Toronto, Peel and several other large municipalities, representing 42 per cent of licensed child-care spaces in Ontario, have insisted that the provincial subsidies they distribute go only to non-profit centres.

Child-care advocates would like to see a moratorium on the licensing of all future for-profit daycares with the existing ones grandfathered. But while we have grave reservations about multinationals moving into the child-care field, banning for-profit centres is too simplistic a solution. It could simply drive child care underground, where there are no licences, standards or enforcement mechanisms.

More and better child care is needed to reflect the reality that 75 per cent of women with children under 5 are in the workforce. Ontario should also update the 60-year-old Day Nurseries Act to reflect the new understanding of the importance of the early years, and it should step up enforcement of the standards that do exist. As revealed by a Star series last year, 65 child-care centres in the province are operating below minimum standards.

One hundred years ago today, 15,000 women marched through the streets of New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. The march for gender equality goes on. So, too, does the battle to ensure our children get the best start in life with quality, affordable and accessible care.

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