The Canadian government has a chance to do better on child care | Diana Ostrom

In a parliament where there is currently no government in Ontario, and Premier Doug Ford is trying to break the back of a province that has approved one of the most generous programs in Canada on child care, it makes sense that child care in Ontario and the rest of Canada need to improve. And Ottawa must do its part too.

In Ontario, the province passed a Liberal government legacy of $15 per day child care and has since filled some of the outstanding spaces. However, government programs designed in the past are simply not enough in the current economic climate.

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We need to provide subsidies to individuals who are willing to take on more responsibility for child care and to support and allow more child care providers to open their doors. The cost of child care can now eat up more than half of families’ income, yet high rents in urban centres have pushed child care out of reach in many cases. Only 2% of jobs in Ontario are child care-supported.

Ontario’s recent budget included almost a billion dollars in child care subsidies and early learning, but this increase does not go far enough to ensure all Ontarians have access to quality early childhood education.

Meanwhile, the federal government refused to fund universal child care in Ontario, costing that province $900m. With my 11-year-old daughter, Morgan, we filed an application with the Ontario government to pay for additional child care with money from federal child care funding. While the government initially agreed to fund our additional child care cost for four years, that funding has since dried up.

Legislation recently passed by the Ontario legislature would increase access to child care by requiring employers with at least five employees to provide paid leave for the care of children under five. I am gratified that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and others still support this legislation. It’s now about getting it into force so we can use it now to make sure that hundreds of thousands of Ontarians receive benefits and the benefit of them. However, this coverage will be simply a starting point.

Child care companies have been lobbying hard for national child care legislation, but the federal government made a historic about-face this summer, reversing its promise to have a national child care strategy by 2018. People have struggled through the past few years without child care, and many have left Canada. Other families, currently making sacrifices on everything from taking advantage of cheaper drug plans to health insurance to homecare, are losing hope and taking their children back home for temporary care.

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I have faith that every federal government should make a policy statement to Canadians that child care is a national imperative. I hope this recent federal and provincial action to improve child care and expand affordable child care is just the beginning, and that we can then see concrete measures that actually fund high-quality, early childhood education that is in line with our children’s needs.

And as Ontario prepares to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2019, this is the moment to reach a deal to better support child care, which would allow children in every Canadian family access to affordable and quality child care that meets their needs. The cost of child care impacts all households, and policymakers need to agree on a set of concrete objectives – like offering zero child care costs, lifting child care benefits to account for childcare costs, setting a maximum child care subsidy and launching a national child care strategy – to create a more child-friendly Canada. The discussions in Ottawa between the Ontario and federal governments are simply the best opportunity we have had to date to bring a national child care strategy to fruition.

• Diana Ostrom is president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

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