Amid mounting pressure from both the public and private sectors for an action plan that provides affordable childcare for Canadian working parents, on Monday, the federal government unveiled its 2021 budget proposal for a national community-based childcare system.
Once partisan policy, many business and union leaders have been aligned on the issue of affordable childcare in recent months. Indeed, last week, Brian Porter, chief executive officer of Scotiabank urged Ottawa to increase childcare spending.
“We saw economists point out these plans actually end up bringing money into the economy, rather than costing the economy, and many bank executives have written op-eds about their views on the need for [affordable] childcare, so I think everyone was ready. And we have a finance minister who was willing to put [this budget proposal] forward, so it was great news for all,” says Jennifer Reynolds, chief executive officer of Toronto Finance International.
In its 2021 budget, the feds pledged to invest up to $30 billion, over the next five years, toward creating a national childcare strategy that works for Canadian families. Calling childcare “essential social infrastructure,” the budget outlined plans to lower the average cost of nationally regulated childcare to $10 a day by 2025-26.
But five years is a long time for Canadian families to wait for the relief in childcare fees, noted Reynolds. “For those who have lost their jobs through the pandemic . . . that feels like a very long time, particularly for women with children who are without childcare and who want to get back to work to make money for their families.”
The budget outlined plans to bring the federal government to a 50/50 share of childcare costs with the provinces and territories, with the exception of Quebec, at a cost of up to $27.2 billion over five years, starting in 2021-22. Quebec already has a long-running, publicly-funded childcare program. Reynolds is hopeful the proposed years-long timeline for implementation is conservative and that the provinces, territories and federal governments can work together to expedite the process to get childcare programs in place as soon as possible.
There’s also some skepticism about whether a national childcare program will actually happen this time. Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh cast doubt on whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will deliver on its childcare pledge since the Liberals have been promising to improve the system since the 1990s. “How can Canadians believe them now?” Singh asked in the House of Commons on Tuesday. There’s also the spectre there’ll be a federal election this year, which could ultimately result in these plans being scuttled depending on the outcome of the next election — whenever it ultimately is held.
“That the budget also aims to cut the cost of childcare to 50 per cent in the next year for some immediate relief [is] still a huge step forward,” says Reynolds. “But for those in lower-income brackets, even that sometimes isn’t enough to make it worthwhile to go back to work, particularly when they start doing that math.”
The feds also committed to growing the number of quality affordable childcare spaces across the country and improving and expanding before- and after-school care to provide more flexibility for working parents.
For many Canadians, the relief is much-needed progress toward resetting the workforce in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and, in particular, the resulting “she-cession.” But Reynolds points out a national childcare policy is only the first step of many needed to get Canadian women back to work. “The next question is whether there are jobs waiting for them.”
However, Reynolds notes there are programs in the budget that address funding for female entrepreneurs or reskilling, which the government is hoping will help in the long term. “Certainly, having a national childcare strategy in place is a massive step and will impact generations to come.”