Parents need our support now

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The federal budget this year has made a substantial investment into childcare with a proposal to make the cost of childcare affordable at $10 a day.

The call for a universal childcare program has been on the books for several decades, coming officially from the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, 51 years ago.

Canada’s federalist structure has been a long-time barrier to the implementation of universal, or national programs. When the federal government tries to implement national programs, it is often faced by resistance from the provinces because of the division of powers and jurisdictions set out in Canada’s Constitution. Whether it is a proposal to create uniformity in the delivery of health services, a national long term care strategy, or childcare, the provinces always resist federal intervention to protect their own jurisdictions.

In 1997, the province of Quebec created its own day care program, as part of a package of family reforms that included the provision of parental leave benefits. The program was intended to provide support to families, and enable women to re-enter the workforce, and it did meet that end, with results showing in greater employment and GDP for Quebec. The province created more than 230,000 spaces.

The importance of childcare isn’t just to ensure families are able to work, and to increase mothers’ labor force participation rates, but to also provide educational settings and development opportunities for our youngest Canadians.

In this pandemic, families across the country are struggling, with parents working from home, and trying to navigate their children through the technology of virtual learning. The stress must be intense for parents, who are working, child rearing, educating and self isolating. The pressures to perform all these roles well is immense.

In this pandemic, we salute the frontline workers, the essential workers, and we never see the invisible heroes, who are at home, managing more than any parent should be expected to manage.

Schools have been opened, and closed, and opened again so often that parents don’t know if they are coming or going. The parents who are essential workers, and cannot work from home, are left scrambling to find childcare, in a situation where we are all told to not mingle, and to isolate.

As a grandparent, like many grandparents these days, I find myself filling in the gaps where our social policies have failed our families. I am grateful that I am able to provide care for my grandchildren when needed. But this is not an option for many, nor is it a solution for families.

There should be no gaps in our social policies when it comes to support for children and families. The services in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta, must be equal to the services for families in all provinces and territories in this federation.

What possible reason could Ontario have for dragging its heels on implementing affordable daycare? In this post-pandemic, economic recovery that seems to be moving farther and farther away down that tunnel, where the light is supposed to be, we are going to need all hands on deck. How could we ever manage to plan an economic recovery without implementing affordable childcare?

There is no rational sense to excluding nearly half of a possible workforce because Ontario won’t invest in affordable childcare. There is no rational sense to treat Canadians differently because provincial governments want to protect their turf. Some things, like the provision of education, health care, and childcare services, deserve a universal approach across the country. I would expect that my child would receive an equal education no matter what region of Canada they live in. I would expect the same level of health care from the system, no matter what region of Canada I live in. Why must we look with envy, to provinces that have better social programs than we do? What is the point of a federation, if we are all treated differently in our respective provinces and territories?

And, to those parents out there who are living with these daily challenges to put food on the table, and be your child’s teacher’s aide, IT expert, parent, cook, and friend, we salute you. You are the invisible heroes in this pandemic.

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