Keeping House: The Affordable Childcare Plan

NDP leader Tom Mulcair has recently launched a plan for affordable childcare in Canada.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair has recently launched a plan for affordable childcare in Canada.  It is no secret that Quebec has the most affordable childcare in the country, and Tom, as a former Quebec cabinet minister, witnessed the success affordable childcare played in helping families and boosting the economy of the province.  His plan would build on the Quebec model to bring quality, accessible childcare to all of Canada.

Compared with some European and English-speaking countries, the employment rate for women in Canada is high – at about 75 percent.  Both parents work in two-thirds of Canadian families. There are currently 900,000 Canadian children in need of care with no access to regulated affordable spaces.  Some families pay thousands of dollars every month for licensed childcare – more than they pay in rent or for their mortgages.

Tom’s plan anticipates creating one million new spaces over the eight year phase-in period and reducing parents’ costs to no more than $15 per day for each child.  Recognizing that delivery of childcare is regulated provincially, the NDP will consult with provinces, territories and indigenous communities in the development of a childcare strategy that will work for all stakeholders.

The initial annual investment of 1.9 billion dollars will fund 370,000 new spaces. After eight years the annual federal investment in childcare will have increased by $5 billion.  Costly, yes, but over and above the obvious benefits to parents, the economist Pierre Fortin asserts that the program will be self-financing.   A TD Bank research survey suggests that for every $1.00 invested in early childhood education, the benefits to federal and provincial governments range from $1.49 to $2.78 in increased tax revenues and decreased social spending.

Most Canadians don’t equate affordable childcare with growth in the national economy, but the accessibility of childcare plays a significant role in labour force participation, particularly for women.  David MacDonald, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, has found that when parents are given an affordable childcare option, as in Quebec, they overwhelmingly choose to work.

Contrast this with income splitting, the tax incentive being implemented by the current federal government.  In other countries where income splitting has been introduced, participation by women in the workforce goes down with no comparable increase in men’s participation. The consequence is a smaller labour force which ultimately slows economic growth.

In the last nine years costs for childcare have skyrocketed.  BC has among the highest fees in Canada, and in many households with infants or very young children both parents cannot afford to work.  Even if they could find licensed childcare space, their cost per child could be as high as 35 percent of their income.

My colleagues in the NDP have a plan for a national program of quality, affordable childcare that will help to keep parents in the workforce, supporting their families and giving their children the best possible start in life.  The benefits of investing in childcare are far reaching.  It is time for Canada to make a real commitment.

Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior