On April 10, while the House of Commons wasn’t sitting, the Harper Conservative government quietly released a report addressing the gap between the supply and demand for high quality child care.
A Ministerial Advisory Committee to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Report appointed last summer had long finished its work, but the government was sitting on its report.
The release was likely spurred by Freedom of Information requests filed by the NDP, Code Blue for Child Care and journalists. The government only unveiled the report after the federal budget had been introduced, too late for the recommendations to have much impact this year.
But beware, some of the report’s flawed recommendations could still form part of the defective policy of a Conservative government fundamentally opposed to the sound social programs that Canadians want.
Despite acknowledging the urgent demand for quality early learning and child care documented in countless previous studies and reports, the Committee didn’t make any recommendations that would strengthen or expand a child care system.
Here are some of the more troubling recommendations:
Despite concluding that businesses are not keen on opening child care centres, the report still includes a long list of incentives encouraging businesses to create child care spaces. One plan is to establish a fund, managed by an arm’s-length agency, that gives money to eligible employers to open child care spaces. This is poor public policy. Local, provincial, and federal governments must be at the centre of work to design a child care system if we are to end the current patchwork of care. Giving employers incentives has failed in other provinces. For more on this see Code Blue’s analysis of the intiative.
Another set of recommendations ignores the need for government investment and accountability in developing a system, instead relying on individual tax measures and work accommodations. This approach was condemned by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in a recent report that put Canada on the bottom of the heap when it comes to investing in child care. The report chastised countries like Canada that promote “choice for parents” to “hide a service patchwork”, and rely on the market to fill in the gaps.
The report completely sidesteps a central issue, the human resources crisis in early learning and child care. Quality child care depends on well-paid, qualified staff. Without a policy framework and considerable investment that can address this human resources dilemma, early learning and child care professionals are leaving the field and fewer are entering the profession.
While this report has been ignored for the 2007 budget, its foundation is consistent with the Conservative government’s backwards approach on child care, leading to the desperate predicament of Canadian families and communities who are still waiting for a national system of early learning and child care.