Liberal budget’s child-care funding commendable, but won’t help families any time soon
TheGlobeandMail.com – Life/Parenting/Analysis
Apr. 12, 2017. ERIN ANDERSSEN
Canada’s beleaguered child-care system needs two specific improvements: more space in quality care and affordable fees that don’t leapfrog inflation. So, when the Liberals announced in this year’s budget that they’d commit $7-billion to child care and were inking deals with the provinces to invest that money, it was heartening that early childhood education was finally getting some priority attention.
Credit where due: putting Ottawa back at the table is an important step to improving a system that is woefully behind most of the countries to which Canada likes to compare itself. But for those middle-class families hoping to see shorter lines and capped fees any time soon? That’s not going to happen.
For starters, $7-billion sounds like a lot of money when tossed like a treat from a politician’s candy bag. But child care is break-the-bank expensive and all those billions are to be divided up between the provinces and territories, and parsed out over a decade.
The first four years amount to about half a billion dollars each to be added to an annual system which, even in its current woeful state, costs provinces $4.2-billion. (Notably, roughly half of that is Quebec’s budget: for $2.4-billion a year, parents there get coveted $20-a-day child care.) Child-care experts estimate that it would actually cost closer to $12-billion a year – from all governments – to run a system which, to quote Ottawa’s current buzzwords, would be “accessible, affordable and flexible.”
To be fair, Ottawa gives more indirectly to child care, in bulk social transfers to the province and daycare tax breaks to families. Ostensibly, new-and-improved family benefits (price tag: $23-billion a year) are also supposed to help by giving parents extra cash and helping provinces save on social assistance. But Canada has been having this debate for decades now, and aside from a few provincial examples, fees keep escalating and wait lists keep growing.
So where’s the new money going? The feds want the biggest bang, so they’re pushing for it to go to low-income kids who, research shows, get the most benefit from quality child care. “We need to start somewhere,” said Jean-Yves Duclos, the cabinet minister in charge of negotiating with each of the provinces and territories. “The resources will have the most impact if we start with those who are most vulnerable. And over time, we are hoping that we will be extending those resources to make sure other families benefit from those investments.”
If you only have a little (relatively) to spend, it makes sense to invest where it will count most. Then again, every European nation that does child care well has built a universal system, usually with a sliding fee scale based on income, that mixes children from all backgrounds. When pressed, Duclos mentions revisiting the government package in 2020 – the year after the next federal election.