In Canada, we have an industry that would inject $2.30 into the economy for every dollar invested in it. One whose job creation potential far exceeds construction or manufacturing, generating 40 jobs for every $1 million in spending. It would free up a more productive work force and support working parents in our country. What is this powerhouse industry? It’s none other than early childhood education, or ECE.
Research has shown that investing in ECE provides greater economic dividends than almost any other sector. It would create 4 times the number of jobs as construction, a favoured industry for stimulus support. Every dollar spent would result in 90 cents in revenue for federal and provincial governments. With numbers like these, it makes sense to fund nation-wide daycare. But successive federal governments have refused to make daycare affordable. Why?
The answer, of course, goes back to the debate about child care outside the home. Despite studies showing young children benefit from quality early childhood education, the current government’s mantra is that parents want choice, not mandatory ECE daycare. To that end, the government offers the Universal Child Care Benefit, a monthly cheque that parents can spend however they want. But the sum is laughable at best: $100 a month of taxable income that barely makes a dent in the cost of daycare, let alone pay for any other child care option. Today’s ECE costs can often exceed that of post-secondary education. What is the benefit of this so-called benefit?
The fact is the vast majority of women in Canada are in the labour force right now. Both parents work outside the home in two-thirds of two-parent families. Anyone who has children understands how hard it is to find and afford quality child care. The waiting lists for daycare are long, and the costs are high. It is crucial we provide support for parents who are juggling the demands of work and home. More importantly, we must provide a healthy, caring environment for our children.
Canada has an abysmal record in early childhood education. In 2004, the OECD labelled Canada’s daycare system a failure – a chronically underfunded, piecemeal combination of programs. Many daycares had high staff turnover and poorly trained workers. Less than 20% of Canadian children were in regulated daycares. Out of 25 developed countries, Canada came dead last on public funding and daycare accessibility. The notable exception to this gloom was Quebec, which introduced a successful province-wide daycare program in 1997. But nationally, there was – and still is – no system to speak of.
A national program been long been proposed in Canada, with little progress made. It was first considered as far back as 1970. It was raised again by the Mulroney government in 1984 and 1988, and again by Liberal governments, with plans to create 250,000 more daycare spaces. All 10 provinces got on board. Unfortunately, there have been more promises than real action. Canadians got a $100 cheque instead – enough for about three hours of babysitting a week.
The government’s own capital start-up plan to create daycare spaces has also failed. The Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada argues that the government’s program has not created a single new space. In fact, some existing daycares are closing down due to lack of government funding.
There are those would balk at the cost of a nation-wide program. Granted, it would require a long-term commitment of money. But as we have seen, investing in child care would more than pay for itself in productivity gains and economic returns. Instead of just “shovel-ready” bricks and mortar stimulus, it’s high time we started investing in economic growth by investing in our children too.
Bruce Hyer, MP