On Monday, July 20th, WSIC audience members met at our new venue The Madison to discuss the often contentious and very important topic of child care. With Federal elections fast approaching, WSIC was fortunate to host and engage three experts in this field for an evening of productive dialogue: Carolyn Ferns, Public Policy and Government Relations Coordinator of Ontario Coalition for Better Child Carem Martha Friendly, Executive Director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, and Andrea Mrozek, Executive Director at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.
Andrea started the discussion by presenting a high level overview of the different approaches taken by political parties on the subject of child care– with Liberals and Conservatives favouring a childcare benefit for parents vs. the NDP seeking to establish a Canadian universal child care system. Andrea’s preference is for child care benefits as she stated that a universal child care system takes the choice out of parent’s hands and coerces parents into a choice they may not otherwise make. For Andrea this is an issue of freedom of choice. She pointed out that children under the age of 6 years old are especially vulnerable and she sees a national child care system as one that limits child care options for parents their children. This is especially true for children with special needs as she pointed out that it is debatable whether a universal child care system could manage such challenges. Child care benefits are therefore more suitable as they allow parents to apply those benefits in a manner that best suits the needs of their children.
Martha took a contrasting view, arguing that child care and education are a public good and should be available for everyone as a shared government and parent responsibility. Universal child care should be a valuable part of our social infrastructure, akin to healthcare. But to make this work, we need building blocks in place by way of a national policy framework and long term sustained federal funding. We also need local government management and guiding principles that we all agree on – including a child care system that is affordable and accessible for all (including special needs children), of high quality, and involving the input and participation of parents. A good system would also require ongoing reporting and evaluation, with feedback and democratic management in place. She pointed out that decades of research support her point of view that establishing a universal child care plan with these principles in mind would be of great benefit for Canadian parents and their children.
Caroline built on Martha’s points, having worked with Martha previously as a policy researcher. Caroline emphasized that it is imperative we place child care front and centre and the best way to achieve this is through a strong national child care policy. In response to Andrea she stated that child care benefits are not sufficient in providing care for children and are more akin to a tax benefit. Instead, we need a Federal government committed to working on child care policy – something which is supported and voice and by an ever increasing number of Canadian parents.
The topic of child care is personal to most people and certainly for all parents. Therefore, it is unsurprising that WSIC audience members had strong views on the subject, with support evenly divided between the Liberal/Conservative vs. NDP child care approach. Of particular focus and discussion during the evening was what an ideal universal child care system would look like if established, how such a system be structured so as to account for and protect children with special needs, and whether government intervention is really the best approach when it comes to parents raising their children – something that is so personal and unique for each family. Audience members also touched on whether higher taxes are justified to support such a system and whether government involvement is a better solution or just a drain on Canadian resources. Comparisons with other existing child care models in Quebec and Scandinavia were also debated.
We are grateful to our speakers for skillfully handling questions from audience members who both supported and criticized the child care proposals discussed and we at WSIC are keen to see how these issues continue to unfold and develop at the political party level over the next few months. We are hopeful the childcare debate evolves from “if” to “how”.