Peter Jon MItchell, family program director for Cardus.

Child-care policy can’t be one-size-fits-all

By 
  • October 7, 2020

OTTAWA - The federal government’s commitment “to make a significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and child-care system” sounds good on the surface to a national religion-based think tank, but only if it doesn’t create a onesize- fits-all government-mandated system.

“I welcome the federal government’s commitment to ensuring ‘flexible care options’ for the care of children,” said Peter Jon Mitchell, family program director for the Cardus.

But he said any national effort to improve child-care options across the country — promised by the minority Liberal government in its recent throne speech — must respect the needs and beliefs of parents and children.

“I hope the government will affirm the full range of childcare choices beyond just paid, licensed care. Whatever system the government creates, parents must not be forced to choose between funding availability for a one-size-fits-all system and the unique needs of their family,” Mitchell said.

“Child care policy must prioritize the best interests of children.”

In fact, the section of the throne speech that deals with child care is primarily focused on women and their place within the workforce from a feminist perspective as the country recovers from the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic, which concerns organizations such as REAL Women Canada.

“Much of the pressure for a national plan comes not from parents but from child-care lobbyists,” according to a REAL Women blog post. “These lobby groups have the most to gain from a national plan since it will guarantee them financial security for their working lives by placing them on the government’s payroll with secure income and benefits.”

Like Cardus, REAL Women is calling for “flexibility and choices in the workplace and home, not government authoritarian policies.”

A Canada-wide child care system is something that’s been heard before with no followup, something the Liberals conceded in the throne speech.

“The Government will build on previous investments, learn from the model that already exists in Quebec and work with all provinces and territories to ensure that high-quality care is accessible to all,” the Liberals promised.

The reference to the Quebec system, which is the only province- wide publicly funded daycare system in the country, is a red flag for many who worry that a purely government-mandated system won’t take the religious and personal beliefs and needs of individual Canadians into account.

“When the federal government renews its multilateral child-care agreements with the provinces, I hope it will put kids first, affirm the full range of child-care choices and make funding equitably available,” said Mitchell. “The nature of work is changing and how we provide care for families needs to change as well.”

The most important thing is not to take too narrow a view of childcare policies as being one aspect of an economic plan. These policies should be more family focused.

“Rather than turning to a onesize- fits-all policy proposal from a different era, the federal government should look ahead and focus on providing provinces with flexible multilateral agreements while seeking a cohesive family policy for Canada,” Cardus said in a statement.

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