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It’s been more than a decade since the federal Liberal government promised a national child care program to help working parents and ensure quality care in children’s early years. Since then, the only province to follow through and deliver a universal program has been Quebec. Currently, 40 per cent of the 600,000 regulated child care spaces in Canada are in Quebec. But even those gains are in jeopardy. The Charest government has moved to increase the cost of Quebec’s $5-a-day child care program – the envy of child care activists across the country – to $7-a-day. And there are concerns the Liberals might move to further erode the program. This, activists say, would be a major setback for children and parents across the country. For nearly a decade, CUPE child care activists have been sounding the alarm that Canada’s piecemeal child care system is not only woefully inadequate, but that licenced, regulated child care is threatened under right-wing governments more interested in cutting taxes than funding essential social programs to help working families. A recent national study by a coalition working to end child poverty confirms the CUPE activists are right. The study found that since 2001 the number of regulated child care spaces has declined by almost 10,600 or two per cent across Canada. The losses, says the report, can be attributed to funding and program cuts in Ontario, Alberta and particularly British Columbia where the Liberal Campbell government has repealed large sections of the Child Care BC Act passed by the former NDP government. “We have hit a wall in terms of getting governments to increase funding for regulated child care. Through coalitions we have been vigilant in making the argument for more funding for universal, quality, not-for-profit, unionized child care. Had we not done that, the decline would be even greater,” says Shellie Bird, a member of the national child care working group and CUPE 2204, representing child care workers in Ottawa. She maintains CUPE has also hit a wall in terms of organizing new members in the sector and in bargaining better wages and benefits for those child care workers who are unionized. “We are struggling to hold on to the gains made over the past 25 years,” says Bird. “This is why it’s key that CUPE develop new bargaining and organizing strategies in a sector marked by small local workplaces and severe underfunding.” Highlighting the need for new strategies, child care advocates, including Bird, asked delegates at the CUPE national convention in Quebec City to give unanimous support to a resolution calling on CUPE to undertake a national action plan for the sector that could include new bargaining structures like provincial or regional councils of unions. The resolution also stresses improving communication and information sharing to reduce the isolation experienced by child care workers. Lisa Stewart (CUPE 3845), a child care worker in Halifax – where only five of the several dozen child care centres are unionized – welcomes a national plan to increase organizing in the sector. “Increasing the number of unionized centres is the only way child care workers in Nova Scotia will see any real improvements to wages and benefits,” says Stewart, who after 13 years as an early childhood educator earns only $10.40 an hour. “I want wage parity with higher paid child care workers in the province and across the country. Developing a critical mass of unionized centres, along with new bargaining councils, is the only way to achieve that.” Building toward that goal, the CUPE child care working group has helped initiate a pilot project in Ontario to look at new ways of organizing and servicing child care workers. Over the course of the next few months, the group will work with CUPE staff to determine how best to restructure the sector. Stella Yeadon