Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday evening that building a national early learning and child care system would be at the center of the Liberal government’s COVID-19 stimulus package, saying “the time has come” for Canada to keep a long-standing promise to parents.
Speaking to former Liberal Minister Ken Dryden in a “fireside chat” at the party’s political convention, Freeland said she was seized with the issue given the “incredibly dangerous” drop in turnout of women in the labor market over the past year.
As successive Liberal leaders have pledged to overhaul the nation’s childcare regime only to step down when in government, Freeland said the political equation has changed amid the upheaval created by the pandemic.
“I truly believe COVID has created a political window of opportunity and perhaps an eye opener on the importance of early learning and child care,” Freeland said.
Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost since the start of the pandemic, and many of them are in hard-hit sectors like hospitality, retail and food – industries dominated by female workers.
A recent RBC analysis found that nearly half a million Canadian women who lost their jobs during the pandemic had not returned to work in January. Employment for women in Canada who earned less than $ 800 a week fell almost 30 percent, according to the bank.
Nearly 100,000 working-age Canadian women have completely left the workforce since the start of the pandemic, which means they aren’t even looking for new jobs.
“A lot of people who didn’t have to worry about early learning and child care, now COVID has brought it into their lives and I think it creates a real opportunity for us,” Freeland said.
“Now is the time for Canada to do this, we need to build this for the women of today.”
Freeland, who will table a federal budget later this month, said a low-cost child care system like the one already in place in Quebec, where parents pay a fixed rate of $ 10 per day per day. child, will create well-paying jobs. and stimulate economic growth by allowing more women to work after childbirth.
Trudeau said Canada will “build back better” after COVID-19, a virus that has ravaged social and economic life in this country. To help this effort, members of the Liberal Party gathered online for a three-day virtual political meeting to gather ideas for an upcoming election platform.
Delegates will debate ideas like a universal basic income, high-speed rail and a “just transition” for energy workers affected by the shift to cleaner fuel sources, among other proposals.
“ Heartbreaking ” delays
Dryden, who served as Minister of Social Development under former Prime Minister Paul Martin, led an effort in 2004-2006 to build a national child care system like the one currently envisioned by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet.
Dryden has secured some $ 5 billion over five years to begin building a universal child care plan – a program designed to provide low-cost care for children of working parents.
This plan was derailed after the Liberals lost the 2006 election. The Conservative government that followed took a different path, sending monthly checks directly to parents to help offset the cost of care.
Freeland said it was “heartbreaking” to revisit Dryden’s plan some fifteen years later, saying such a program would have helped the many mothers who were forced to choose between looking for work and looking after care. ‘a child during this pandemic.
While promising some sort of child care plan, Freeland told Dryden there is “concern” within the government about creating such a complex program in a relatively short period of time.
Dryden said such a system – which, given constitutional considerations, will require provincial buy-in – will take years to put in place and will go through many iterations before a fully functioning national network is in place. . Despite the obstacles, he said it was necessary to start working now to give Canadian children “a great start in life”.
In November’s fall economic update, Freeland outlined the first steps in a multi-year plan to build a Canada-wide child care system.
The government has since created a new federal early learning and child care secretariat to work with provinces and territories to design a new national system.
Freeland promised that the next federal budget would present a more concrete plan for how Ottawa will deliver “affordable, accessible, inclusive and high quality child care from coast to coast.”