Money: Ottawa Is Spending Less Than Half What They Need To

At first glance, 2017 looks like it’s been great for child care in Canada. For the first time in more than a decade, the federal government budget includes long-term funding for early learning and child care.

The problem: that funding’s not nearly enough for our kids. And the budget locks spending in at a woefully inadequate level.

The federal government will spend only $500 to $540 million annually for the first five years. But our analysis shows child care needs more than twice that: $1.2 billion in 2017. And we need annual increases until Canada invests the international benchmark of one per cent of GDP in early learning and child care. With that funding, all levels of government could make high-quality, inclusive child care affordable and universally accessible across the country.

Spaces: Signs of Hope, but Shortages Everywhere

There are enough licensed child care spaces for only one in four Canadian children under the age of six. The shortage is even worse for infants, children with special needs, rural families, and parents who work non-standard hours.

Governments say increasing the number of spaces is a priority. And the good news is, provinces have made significant commitments:

  • Ontario: 100,000 new regulated spaces over the next five years
  • PEI: 200 more infant and pre-school spaces by 2020
  • Manitoba: 739 new licensed child care spaces though capital funding
  • BC: 4,100 new spaces
  • Alberta: 1,000 new spaces in existing or new non-profit centres, with a fee cap of $25 a day

But that won’t do much to narrow the gap between need and availability. For one thing, without comprehensive Canada-wide child care reform, parents won’t be able to afford most of those new spaces.

What’s more, creating new spaces won’t accomplish anything without well-trained staff. Canada faces a national crisis in recruiting and retaining qualified staff, due to low pay and often-difficult working conditions.

Affordability: Still Priced out of Reach

Licensed child care is often much too expensive for families. Median monthly fees range from $451 per child for preschool-age care in Winnipeg to $1,649 for infant care in Toronto. And fees are rising faster than inflation. The exception is Quebec, where the government provides operational funding directly to child care.

Everywhere else, most public child care funding goes to fee subsidies for eligible lower-income parents. And even then, several provinces require fully-subsidized parents to pay hefty additional fees out of pocket.

Many Ontario parents wait on long wait lists for fee subsidies, while low-income families in Quebec may find even the lowest fee — $7.75 per child, per day — too pricey.

Some jurisdictions have offset the high price of child care for four- and five-year-old children by expanding pre-school and kindergarten programs, funded through the public education system. But other than this, governments have done little in recent years to lower child care costs.

Quality: Markets Still Come Before Kids

There’s plenty of international evidence that treating child care as a market commodity doesn’t deliver quality care. Yet that’s the approach Canadian governments are still mostly taking. And quality is suffering.

That applies to every element that affects the quality of child care: health, safety, and nutrition; well-maintained facilities set up for children; opportunities for play (active and quiet, indoor and outdoor) and rest, and for emotional, intellectual and social development; healthy interactions with adults and other kids; support for and communication with parents; and respect for diversity and difference.

A well-planned framework for child care can improve quality with everything from staff training and better wages for the people who care for our children, to decent funding and up-to-date practices in early childhood education. But for that, we need a publicly-managed system — not one that puts the marketplace first.

Unfortunately, increases in public funding mostly go toward mending holes in the current patchwork system, instead of building a solid well-planned network of child care services. Quebec in particular has taken big steps backward, spending more on for-profit child care instead of strengthening the publicly-funded not-for-profit sector.

Advocacy and Research: A Growing Movement for Affordable Child Care

The brightest spot on the landscape is the re-emergence of a vibrant, coordinated movement of parents and others, Together, we have put child care back on the public agenda. It’s now an issue no government or political party can ignore.

But the organizations working to keep it there are struggling. And child-care researchers have been under growing strain after Stephen Harper’s Conservatives cut off support for advocacy and applied research. Good, evidence-based child care services and policy require solid research and data, and democratic engagement with stakeholders and communities.

It’s time the federal government stepped up again, funding the infrastructure — advocacy, data collection and research — that helps build a strong, resilient child-care sector to serve all Canadian families that need it.

More Child Care Matters

For a better idea of where child care in Canada is currently at, read our “Child care in Canada at a Glance” report. Find out how provinces compare, where there have been improvements, and where there is still much work to do.

There’s a better path forward. One that could see affordable, safe, inclusive, and high-quality care made available for all kids and families. Read our “Child Care by 2020” vision document to find out more.

Child Care by 2020: See Our Vision