Editorial: The Energizing Option to Reform Canada’s Child Care System

This week, the Ontario government announced what appears to be a belated realization of the need to invest in child care. But as the world’s seventh-most populous country, Ontario has the potential to mobilize a continent-wide movement to finally address the great work child care provides.

Canada has a tremendous opportunity to offer expanded, quality child care to the children of working families in need. The countries with the highest rates of child care utilization – and the lowest levels of child poverty – are the Scandinavian countries, where the quality of child care and education are high, resources are diverse, and not-for-profit child care centres are economically viable models for affordable care.

In Canada’s most populous province, where incomes are lower and many people of colour face higher child care costs, Ontario is facing increasing barriers to accessing, both in terms of proximity and affordability. Canada has been a leader on improving child care, but by keeping child care standards in place in Ontario and at the federal level, the Canadian government has responsibility to ensure a range of options and higher-quality childcare are accessible for all. In this case, the Ottawa government should work with Ontario to ensure that child care pays for itself, freeing up resources for federal programs and investments in the social safety net. Ottawa is a leader on promoting equality of opportunity and access to family-level child care is a key component to that.

Ontario and Ottawa are in a race with each other to achieve better equity for mothers and children across the country. On Friday, the federal government announced that it would grant $250 million over five years to support the creation of 1,200 new regulated, licensed child care spaces in Ontario.

The federal government should not let the investment slip through its fingers. The Ontario government’s move was critical in reducing barriers to accessing child care and improving quality. In addition, it is a necessary next step for a province that has been slow to adjust to the consequences of federal budget cuts over the last six years and the precarious economy it is still facing.

The federal government is, unfortunately, not ready to engage in a long-term dialogue to support the province’s efforts to secure the support of all parents, including immigrants, in all types of care.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau expressed the federal government’s disappointment on Friday but he needs to acknowledge that there is more work to be done – and more investment required.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is right to distance himself from federal Conservative rhetoric of the “war on women” and put forward policies that are evidence-based and common sense. It is time for the federal government to engage with the provincial government to support the expansion of child care options and ensure that all children have a role in shaping the future of their community.

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