It’s time Canada got serious about child care. In the past, Canada ranked low in government spending. Moreover, it fails to attain benchmark indicators in provision of quality and access in early learning and care. Indeed, the standards even vary from province to province. As a result, access to affordable space is not guaranteed. To be sure, the latest budget commitment of $7 billion over ten years by the federal Liberal government shows a will to do better. However, unless this new investment is guided by a consistent, well-thought-out vision, Canadians aren’t going to see a full return on it. Without such a solid policy foundation, increased funding will only ensure continued fragmentation in Canada’s child care sector: Access will be more difficult, the opportunity gap will widen. How do we develop this vision?
It begins with asking the right question: What is good for Canada’s children both now and in the future?
Three main dilemmas must be addressed. First, child care policies must democratically affirm children’s rights in Canadian society and reassert the rights of parents to freedom of choice. Second, benchmarks of quality must be defined through a national early-learning and curriculum framework. This framework must then be executed and interpreted across varied communal contexts to secure regulatory policies ensuring pedagogical quality and children’s optimal developmental outcomes. Hand in hand, public support for the improvement of the status of the early learning and care profession is imperative. Third, child-care policies must address expanding coordinated services and harmonize regulations at the municipal, provincial and federal levels to promote access of quality services to families. Possibilities are numerous. City zoning and new development projects, for example, could become more hospitable to child-care operators and make more space for children. Subsidies and tax breaks for both families and operators will expand choice and affordability.
Meanwhile, the current government’s budgetary commitment, a patchwork approach to economic policy, is not generative to the evolution of the child care sector. Capital investment must follow a comprehensive vision for child care. This vision must be based on affirming Canada’s collective values of quality early learning and care programs, equity, democracy, women’s participation in the labour market and increased economic prosperity for all. The tapestry that is childcare policy in Canada must be woven carefully to ensure policy initiatives and tax dollars do not continue to fail the very children they are intended to help.