OTTAWA Social Development Minister Ken Dryden must make Canadas new child care system public and not-for-profit or he will run the eventual risk of trade challenges, warns a legal opinion commissioned by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
The trade implications make it imperative that our long-awaited child care program be public from the beginning, said CUPE National President Paul Moist. The faster we make child care a public program, the better protected we will be from trade challenges by massive US big box chains like Kindercare.
The legal opinion, drafted by trade lawyer Steven Shrybman, concludes that the scope of public policy reservations and exceptions are qualified and unlikely to apply if child care services are provided on a commercial basis. Investment and services rules in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organizations General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) would likely apply. For these reasons, the best way to ensure social policy flexibility is to minimize or eliminate the delivery of child care services by commercial or for-profit providers.
The trade implications of any new pan-Canadian child care system are more relevant than ever with the news this week that two of the USs largest commercial child care chains are planning to merge. Portland, Oregon-based KinderCare and Golden, Colorado-based Knowledge Learning would merge to create a giant company that would have 1,980 centres serving more than 200,000 children and employing 45,000 workers. The deal is expected to be finalized by years end. Expansion into Canada is expected as the two countries economies continue to integrate.
Shrybman warned the federal government against the high-risk behaviour of letting commercial child care companies acquire a significant stake in the system.
Letting large-scale commercial operators set up shop would significantly increase exposure to trade complaints and foreign investor claims, said Shrybman. The federal government can stave these risks off by making sure that any new child care system is public from its inception and by ensuring that further trade commitments do not constrain public policy-making.
Maryann Bird, Executive Director of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, said that the trade implications underscore the need for Social Development Minister Ken Dryden to make a clear commitment to a public, not-for-profit system.
Minister Dryden has the opportunity to create the first major, pan-Canadian, public social program in a generation, said Bird. Care for Canadas children must not be traded away.
Paul Moist, National President, cell (613) 558-2873
Claude Gnreux, National Secretary-Treasurer (porte-parole francophone), cell (613) 794-8395
Dennis Lewycky - cell (204) 223-6805
Karin Jordan - cell (613) 222-4436 (in Winnipeg)
David Robbins - cell (613) 878-1431