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An NDP-sponsored bill aims to boost child care from a patchwork of services to a national program through a law similar to the Canada Health Act. The draft legislation, Bill 303, is designed to bring much-needed standards and guarantees to child care across the country.

The NDP introduced the Early Learning and Child Care Act in May 2006. In a very encouraging development, opposition Bloc Québécois and Liberal MPs joined the NDP in supporting the bill at its second reading yesterday. The Bloc’s support is crucial to moving Bill 303 through the minority Parliament.

One look at Canada’s mish-mash of child care services shows how badly this bill is needed. Child care services vary wildly in terms of quality, cost and access across the country, and accountability is lax. The entire system is severely underfunded. A recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ranked Canada last out of 20 OECD countries – including the US – when it comes to public spending on child care.

At the same time, the Conservatives have torn up child care deals inked under the previous Liberal regime. Those deals, while falling short of creating a high quality system, had broken a decade-old logjam in the push for a national child care program. Ripping up the deals has stalled plans to create new spaces that would have shortened waiting lists.

The NDP’s legislation would make child care a national program, insulating it from political tinkering and game-playing. The bill would ensure reliable funding for the provinces – and would require those funds to be invested in not-for-profit centers.

Legislation will also help ensure accountability. Right now federal transfers to the provinces for early childhood services come with virtually no strings: the provinces must provide only general reports, and there are no penalties for non-compliance. Bill 303 can help ensure every dollar invested in child care is subject to strong accountability requirements, bringing the whole country up to the highest standard possible.

While the Harper government tries to squelch further debate with its sham child care “allowance”, it is clear the debate is far from over. Committee hearings on the bill are expected in December or January.

CUPE has long supported a national child care act as one of the key building blocks of a strong public child care program. At a lobby session with the Bloc this past June, CUPE National President Paul Moist and National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux, along with representatives from CUPE Quebec, highlighted the importance of child care among other legislative priorities.