How current federal platforms stack up on family affordability

Something exciting is happening in this election.

According to a platform analysis conducted by Generation Squeeze, two parties are serious about moving Canada from a patchwork of child care programs that often cost the equivalent of another rent-sized payment into a high-quality, affordable and inclusive system. 

(It’s worth noting Gen Squeeze has analyzed the platforms of four major parties: Conservatives, Greens, Liberals and NDP. We've given them scores on how well those promises will deliver and summarized it in the fedElxn'19 Voter's Guide.)

Like with other platform analyses Gen Squeeze has done this election, the idea wasn't simply to break down what each party has committed to (though we do that), it was to assess how far the party platforms go towards meeting our family affordability goal.

As recommended by Generation Squeeze (and the broader Child Care Now movement), the Greens and NDP promise enough funding to meet international benchmarks for child care investment. They would both add $4 billion in annual spending by the end of the next federal term in office on route to eventually growing annual spending by $10+ billion.  

These funding levels could deliver enough child care spaces for which fees wouldn’t need to be higher than $10 a day (with no fees for lower income households); child:staff ratios would be low enough to deliver high quality early educational experiences; and child care workers would earn pay equity level wages.  

It’s positive news

Sure, it would take upwards of 8+ years for the promised investments to move Canada from the current patchwork into a really good system.   Waitlists and fees may decline in the relatively near term, but they would remain longer/higher than is encouraged by the research for several years to come.

In other words, a transition period would inevitably require parents to remain patient while we wait to experience the full benefits of the promised investment levels. Still, it is an exciting development to see two national parties make major commitments to child care. We are hopeful it may motivate other parties to match their level of ambition to support the generations raising young children.

In contrast to the Green and NDP promises to add billions in annual spending, the Liberals would add only another $535 million/year beyond what is budgeted in the 2019 federal budget. The Conservatives have made no additional commitment to child care services. This means the Liberals and Conservatives propose to stick with funding levels that will leave quality services in short supply at fee-levels that squeeze family budgets while expecting child care workers to make below-pay-equity wages.

Parental leave

Multiple parties are proposing to improve parental leave.

For example, the Liberals are responding to concerns raised by Gen Squeeze and others that parental leave shouldn’t remain part of the Employment Insurance (EI) system, because it limits access for self-employed workers and others with limited attachment to the labour market.  So the Liberals promise a plan to bring the leave system outside of EI, and combine it more with the Canada Child Benefit. This is exciting.

Still, when it comes to making parental leave more affordable in the years ahead, no party is proposing to transform the maternity and parental leave system – especially when thinking about maximum benefits.

The Liberals plan to increase the maximum value of benefits while on leave by around $3,600/year, while the Conservatives and NDP would increase the maximum benefit value by around $2,600/year. It’s great to hear parties talking about improving benefit values, so kudos to them. Still, Gen Squeeze ultimately recommends that the maximum value increase by over $24,000/year. This means the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP are making incremental progress toward the goal of making family time affordable while raising a newborn.

The Greens don’t say much about parental leave, and have no plan to increase the maximum benefit value. However, their proposal for a guaranteed livable income could dramatically increase the minimum benefit available to parents caring for newborns, likely raising it to a level near the maximum value currently provided through Employment Insurance. This could mean no baby is ever again raised in poverty, as Gen Squeeze policy recommendations strive to achieve. However, the guaranteed livable income is among the very few Green promises that receive no budget estimate in the Green platform. As a result, there are serious questions about how “real” the proposal can be, at least in the first years of a new federal government.

Benefit values are one thing. Who takes the benefits is another. The Liberals made important incremental steps this year to reserve some leave time for each parent in a two-parent family in order to promote gender equality. The party has reserved 5-8 weeks of “use it or lose it” leave time for the second parent, which is most often dads. Gen Squeeze recommends that 6 months be reserved for one parent, 6 months for the other, plus another 6 months to be split as parents choose. 

So far, no other party mentions the importance of promoting shared leave. This overlooks evidence showing leaves longer than one year can exacerbate gender divisions of labour at home and (paid) work, and thereby reinforce gender pay gaps and the glass ceiling. Plus, the evidence shows that dads are happier when they get involved early on with their newborns, as are their spouses and children.

Making it easier to balance family time and time at work

Policies regulating overtime, EI and CPP continue to presume that full-time work is 40+ hours per week.

These norms were set at a time when it was common to have one person focused on paid work and the other on family caregiving. But that world no longer exists, because home prices have skyrocketed while earnings have declined over the last four decades. There are far more dual earner households in which parents are making a combined contribution of 80+ hours  to the labour market, and many single-parents are working full-time too. The outcome is that parents have less time to spend at home and with their families, and a greater need for child care services.

Political parties could help free up time for parents, reduce the need for expensive child care and promote work-life balance by incentivizing slightly shorter full-time work norms. For example, regulations could make it more cost-effective for employers to offer a 35-hour work week compared to a longer work week. That’s akin to workers finding an extra month per year for time at home.

This change could support spreading out our work hours a little differently over our lives. We could have better work-life balance each year, paid for in part by our being open to working slightly more years. For example, the age of retirement could shift from 65-67. While no one wants to have to work more years, the fact is Canadians now live 7-10 years longer than when we first established our retirement income systems.  Combining better work-life balance each year with slightly more working years is a reasonable way for governments to support the generations raising young children now, promote our economic security later in retirement, while balancing government budgets so we don’t pass on large debts to our kids.  

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