We can't let up on child care

I don’t have kids. But I want to start a family, someday. 

In an effort to stave off pandemic-induced boredom, I made the poor decision to kill some time by crunching numbers to get a better idea of how much it costs to raise a child.

As the numbers added up I had one thought: "How the hell is anyone supposed to afford this?!". The financial costs of raising a family seem impossibly high.

There's been a lot of progress for parents over the decades. For instance, Canada’s parental leave program, while lacking in several ways, gives many parents more choice than before to take time off work with less fear of losing employment and/or income. That’s a big win in a lot of ways, not the least of which being that mothers are less likely to lose their foothold in the workforce just because they had children.

But, there’s still a daunting affordability barrier working parents face: Child care.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently reported that in “2020, the median cost for an infant in full-day child care was $22,400 a year in the City of Toronto proper. It was slightly less in the GTA suburbs—between $17,400 and $19,300—but that is still a lot of money for one child.”

Rent and home prices in the GTA are already forcing many people into an unstable paycheque to paycheque lifestyle. And on top of this we expect some parents to find another $22,000 to pay for child care if they return to work after parental leave benefits end? Just thinking about it makes my head spin.

It’s a major problem.

As Sarah Boesveld wrote for the Huffington post: "Quality daycare shouldn’t be about luck, privilege, hustle and trust. It should be part of our national economic infrastructure". Months after Boesveld's article was published, Canada inched much closer to solving the child care affordability problem.

A problem Canada may *finally* solve

2021 is a potentially historic year for child care in Canada! That’s because our government announced funding for a national child care program in this year’s budget:

Budget 2021 proposes new investments totaling up to $30 billion over the next five years, and $8.3 billion ongoing for Early Learning and Child Care and Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care

(For more info on the promises made in the budget, check out this brief rundown from our friends at Child Care Now.)

Sounds good right? 

There are a lot of potential benefits to a program like this. According to Child Care Now: "Making affordable, high-quality early learning and child care (ELCC) available to all families will grow the economy, promote gender equality, increase women’s labour force participation and enhance children’s well-being".

The 2021 budget announcement gives us hope that it may finally be more affordable for young families to raise children and avoid sacrificing their careers or going further into debt.

However, there's reasons to be cautious in our optimism. That's because...

Canada has a history of false starts on affordable childcare

2021 isn’t the first time the federal government recommended or promised to enact a national affordable child care program.

This is just the most recent attempt to get such a program off the ground. Our federal government has known about the affordability problem and proposed action going as far back as the 1980s.

Child Care Canada outlines a short history of false starts on nationally affordable child care programs in Canada.

Here are a few key moments:

  • In 1984, the Taskforce on Child Care, headed by sociologist Katie Cooke, recommended a national childcare plan at the top of a list of 53 recommendations. But, as a new government took power in 1986, those recommendations were shelved.

  • In 1988, bill C-144 the “Canada Child Care Act” died ahead of a federal election and was not reintroduced. This bill was also heavily criticized by groups advocating for affordable child care at the time.

  • In 2005, after striking bi-lateral deals with 10 provincial governments across the country, the federal government came very close to implementing a plan that included $5-billion over five years to “accelerate the building of a Canada-wide system of early learning and childcare”. This plan was also scrapped as the incoming government cancelled bi-lateral agreements in 2006.

When I read this, I noticed a frustrating pattern. 

Every time Canada gets close to establishing a national child care program, plans are shelved as a new government is elected.

This made me acutely aware of how potentially fragile the 2021 announcement really is. 

Next election, we must break the pattern

With whispers of a possible federal election this year getting louder every day, I can’t help but worry that we're witnessing yet another false start on affordable child care.

If history repeats itself and the next election results in another reversion, parents will continue to struggle with affordability for years to come. This means more young people who want to start a family might delay having children or possibly forgo it altogether for financial reasons.

Raising children shouldn’t be the financial nightmare it is today. There’s a child care program on the table, right now, and we want to see all political parties supporting it.

This time, we need to break the pattern of election-related setbacks to progress on child care affordability. We do this by:

  • Pushing each federal party to commit to seeing the national child care program through in their election platforms.

  • Ensuring the promised funding is included in future federal budgets.

  • Getting provincial governments to work with the federal government to plan their own funding commitments to get the program properly off the ground across Canada.

All current and aspiring political leaders need to know that we want universal, affordable child care in Canada. They need to understand that we won’t accept another decades-long delay on solving a problem Canadians have rallied behind since the for 50 years!

The light at the end of the tunnel

Returning to Sarah Boesveld's piece in the Huffington Post about child care in the 2020 throne speech, she ends with a line that’s both inspiring and a bit tragic:

My Twitter feed this week is full of women who said how excited they were 30 years ago when this was part of the national conversation. But they, and their children, were let down.

Maybe our kids don’t need to be

That's what we're hoping for.

Maybe this time, we'll get it right. Maybe this time, our government will follow through. But that will only happen if we learn from our history and refuse to let affordable child care slip out of reach once again.

After decades of research, planning, demonstrations and struggles, the financial squeeze on young families trying to afford child care may finally ease. All of us, including the public and government officials, need to make sure we don’t let young families and their children down this time.

In order to reach the light at the end of the tunnel, we can't let up on child care.

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