Globe & Mail: Provinces harm family finances by playing politics with $10-a-day child care

Originally published in The Globe & Mail on February 17, 2024

Two years into the rollout of federal funding for $10-a-day child care, the plan still isn’t firing on all cylinders.

But it isn’t a sign that the plan is broken. It signals that provinces are playing politics with federal funding rather than urgently reducing financial hardships facing young families.

The solution requires provinces to invest fully and efficiently the federal child-care transfers they now receive, while adding their own provincial dollars to scale up the $10-a-day system.

For the past two decades, provinces have retreated from prioritizing social investments such as child care. When boomers were young, provincial governments routinely spent more on social and education programs than on medical care. Now the opposite is true. Since Canadians use more medical care after age 65, there has been a shift away from investing in the generation raising young kids.

The $10-a-day child care plan launched by Ottawa compensates partially for this provincial retreat. And families are celebrating when they can access affordable care for their kids.

“Getting a space for our kindergartner in $10-a-day after-school care felt like winning the lottery,” explained Hugh Patterson when I asked readers to share their stories. “It has reduced so much stress in our lives.”

For Kathryn Stewart, the savings allowed her family “to move out of our apartment that had issues with mice and mould.”

Jayne Drew emphasized that “$10-a-day child care has given me the confidence to have my first child.” Previously, “the lack of affordable child care was a major factor in our decision to delay having children.”

Michael Côté agrees. “Before the $10-a-day child care I was spending $1,500 a month for daycare fees. My mortgage is $1,400 a month. We have only had one child because there has been no feasible way to have another.”

Clearly, $10-a-day child care is a life-changer for parents who can access it. So, we need governments to scale it up fast.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is leading where the Constitution permits. By 2023, it had almost doubled federal child-care funding — to $5.6-billion from $2.9-billion in 2021. In 2024, federal spending is projected to grow to $6.6-billion and will reach nearly $8-billion thereafter.

By contrast, the provinces are moving slowly. For example, Ontario, Alberta and B.C. are all taking federal funds without adding significant investments of their own.

This isn’t surprising in Ontario and Alberta, where the governments may have decided that the conservative political movement benefits if the federal Liberals can’t take credit for the successful rollout of $10-a-day child care before the next federal election.

It is surprising in B.C., though, where the NDP campaigned in 2020 to add $750-million to expedite the introduction of $10-a-day child care well before Ottawa made its promise. Since then, B.C. has reallocated most of its promised new money, replacing it with funds from federal investments.

When provinces do little more than ride federal coattails, the wages of child-care professionals are collateral damage. Incomes for early educators often rival those of parking lot attendants or people who clean cages at the zoo. Low wages make it challenging to attract or retain enough professionals to scale up the $10-a-day system. That’s why some child-care providers initiated rolling strikes in Alberta and big providers in Ontario warn of closings if the province doesn’t step up soon.

Child-care professionals are humble in their salary expectations. They want a wage floor of $30 to $40 per hour, for an annual salary of $62,400 to $83,200.

That’s peanuts compared with the $135,000 top-up that B.C. recently awarded family physicians, who already earned six-figure incomes — despite the fact B.C. already had more family doctors per capita than any other province.

Since provinces clearly have funds for recruitment, it’s time to prioritize the child-care professionals who make possible the life-changing access to $10-a-day services that Hugh, Kathryn, Jayne and Michael report.

This life-changing service is now politically at risk.

If you want to help protect $10-a-day child care — or gain access to it — you should reach out to federal and provincial representatives. One way is through the Generation Squeeze and Child Care Now websites.

Because politicians need to know that voters will go to bat for the financial lifeline that $10-a-day child care has started to provide the generation raising young kids.


Paul KershawDr. Paul Kershaw is Founder, Lead Researcher & Executive Chair of Generation Squeeze. He is a policy professor in the UBC School of Population and Public Health, and Director of the UBC Masters of Public Health program.

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