Adrienne Silnicki | CUPE Research

Child care advocates across Canada gave a resounding cheer when the federal government released its plans for child care in the 2021 budget. Finally, the calls of advocates have been heard and the federal government has committed to reduce the financial burden of child care. By the end of 2022, child care fees should be reduced by 50 per cent on average across the country. By 2025-2026, child care fees will average $10 a day. This is exciting news, but it depends upon the cooperation of provinces and territories. 

The budget reflected major lessons we have learned throughout this pandemic: the economy needs child care; families need child care; women need child care; and children – especially those who are financially disadvantaged – need child care.

Some provinces are well on their way to making a $10/day child care fee a reality. Quebec was the first province to implement universal child care. Newfoundland and Labrador is offering a $25 a day child care plan. BC is looking to expand their $10 a day prototypes and their “seamless day” model which covers some of the early years. However, provinces such as Ontario and Alberta are crying out for more flexibility and balking at the federal preference for non-profit child care spaces. 

Problems with recruitment and retention of child care workers continue, mostly because of low wages and poor benefits. Where is the commitment to the worker who delivers that care? Budget 2021 did acknowledge that child care workers are grossly underpaid. However, it offered no solutions to address this disparity. There was no mention that provinces or territories would need to increase wages of child care workers, provide them with benefits, and ensure they weren’t left to retire in poverty.

The child care sector already struggles with high turnover and low recruitment. It relies heavily on the work of racialized and newcomer women. This is likely how governments have gotten away with paying so little for so long. In the current system, increasing wages means increasing parents’ fees. Child care workers don’t want to see families struggle, so they are reluctant to ask for more. This needs to change. We need to untangle parent fees from workers’ salaries, we need to increase wages, offer benefits and pensions, and ensure these unsung heroes of the pandemic know and realize their value. The economy cannot recover without a she-covery. A she-covery cannot happen without child care. The federal government needs to make a commitment to the workers too.