OTTAWA – The federal minister in charge of crafting a national child care plan says that if the Liberals are going to take gender equity seriously, then they must do the same when it comes to the soaring cost of child care.
Child care costs across the country, which can reach upwards of $20,000 a year and rival the cost of housing, can force new mothers to stay out of the workforce, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Wednesday.
For those who can afford a space, they may only be able to find a spot far from home, making accessible, affordable and quality child care a necessity, he said — and finding it a serious issue for parents who want to work outside the home.
“For many parents, the absurd reality is that they cannot afford to work, so careers need to be put on hold,” Duclos told a news conference in Toronto, home to the highest child care costs in the country.
“We can do better, and we must also do better.”
To figure out how, and to learn what is and isn’t working when it comes to child care in Canada, the Liberal government will to spend $195 million in the coming years on research to close data gaps on child care.
The money, coming out of funds promised in this month’s budget, could potentially create 40,000 subsidized spaces for low and modest-income families over the next three years, and help more parents enter the workforce.
The plan announced Wednesday splits the money into two pots: $95 million to close data gaps, and $100 million in an innovation fund that Duclos said would aim to find ways to get the most bang for the government’s buck.
Last week’s budget said a lack of affordable, high-quality child care means some parents have to “sacrifice retirement savings” to cover fees of up to $20,000 a year, or leave the workforce because “child care is unavailable or unaffordable.”
The Liberals have promised to spend $7 billion over a decade on child care, starting with $500 million in the new fiscal year that starts in April, increasing to $870 million annually by 2026.
Part of the money will also go towards funding indigenous child care on and off-reserve.
For advocates who have waited years for the federal government to kick in cash to help expand and subsidize child care services, the money is seen as a start, but far from enough to cover the country from coast to coast.
Funding also can’t flow without the Liberals first signing one-on-one funding agreements with the provinces and territories, a two-step process that was started more than a year ago.
At their last meeting, federal, provincial and territorial leaders agreed to some of the broad wording about the principles underpinning the a multilateral framework agreement that agreement that would lay out the key policy goals of the child care money.
Officials negotiating the detail have yet to agree on a final text, after which the Liberals will have to negotiate one-on-one funding deals with provinces and territories.