The head of the Bank of Nova Scotia is urging Ottawa to top up the annual Canada Child Benefit and increase childcare expense deductions, ahead of the federal budget announcement slated for April 19.

During the bank’s annual general meeting on April 13, Brian Porter, chief executive officer of Scotiabank, said he wants the benefit topped up by $5,000. In July 2020, the maximum annual Canada Child Benefit reached up to $6,765 per child under age six and up to $5,708 for kids aged six to 17. Families already receiving the benefit also got a one-time $300 boost per child last year.

Read: Liberals considering national childcare program to combat ‘she-cession’       

On top of the benefit increase, Porter is also advocating for a significant increase to the childcare expense deductions to allow parents to fully deduct the cost of pre-school childcare. Under the current rules, parents and guardians can claim up to $8,000 per child for kids under the age of seven and $5,000 per child for children aged seven to 16.

While childcare costs vary across the country, Porter said increasing the amount to $20,000 per child per year should cover the cost of daycare in every Canadian city. It will also help keep women in the workforce, he said, because women are more likely to put careers on hold to raise children. “Providing greater flexibility to families to find childcare arrangements that are best suited for them is good for women, it’s good for families and it’s good for the country.”

The Liberal Party is considering a major spend to build a national childcare system as an economic measure to help more women return to the workforce, an idea that has garnered backing from business groups and was recommended by the House of Commons finance committee in its pre-budget report.

Read: Feds must quickly build national childcare system on existing format: report

A report by the C.D. Howe Institute said accessible and affordable childcare will play a significant role in determining whether parents — primarily mothers — can return to their pre-pandemic trajectories of employment and wages. It stated growth in family income during the 1980s and 1990s came largely from rising female labour-force participation rates and, since then, largely from rising average wages for female employees, specifically via the increased representation of women in high-paying managerial and professional occupations.

The report also suggests that trying to revamp how childcare is delivered in Canada by moving responsibility to Ottawa from the provinces appears unlikely to succeed and that the federal government should instead quickly build on what’s already there, rather than push wholesale change.

As of early March 2021, employment among women was 5.3 per cent below where it sat in February 2020, just before the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit in Canada, compared to about 3.7 per cent for men. Most of the shortfall is attributable to losses in sectors like food services and accommodations, where employees deal directly with the public and have been hit hard by lockdowns and restrictions.

Read: Women leaving workforce to care for kids during pandemic: report