CHAPTER 4: ECE and Public Policy
Families Benefit From Policy Initiatives
The way Canadians work has changed dramatically. The digital economy has restructured employment patterns and, as a result, restructured families. There is no more nine-to-five workday and so-called job security has become a thing of the past. Non-standard hours, precarious work, and absences due to travel have each affected the capacity of parents to meet the needs of their young children. Over the past twenty years, governments have implemented social strategies that provide parents with the time, financial resources, programs, and services to promote their children’s healthy development. Much remains to be done and these programs are costly, but there is a common understanding among policy makers and the public that the costs of inaction are far greater.
The Benefits of Parental Leave
Canada is one of 41 countries that provides paid family leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Since December 2017, non-birthing parents (aka second parents) have had the option to take an additional 5 to 8 weeks of paid leave. Paid leave is extremely beneficial to employers, parents, and children in several ways:
- It helps employers attract and retain workers
- It adds stability to the workforce because mothers are more likely to return to their jobs
- It retains women in the workforce thus improving the economy
- It improves workplace morale and productivity
- It promotes the mental and physical health of mothers
- It reduces postnatal health risks for infants
- It supports the development of parent-child relationships
- It boosts fathers’ parenting skills
- It allows for more equitable divisions of labour
The Limits to Employment Insurance
Parental benefits outside of Quebec* are distributed through Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) program. Unfortunately, there are limits to who can qualify. Freelance and contract workers who have not reached the minimum required hours or paid into the program, workers under 25 (especially women), tip-based, and low-income earners are less likely to meet the criteria needed.
Out of financial necessity, lower income earners tend to return to work earlier requiring infant child care, the most expensive and least available. Experts, labour and business groups are calling on the Canadian government to allow more to parents to qualify for parental leave, boost the value of payments paid out and ensure single parents can also benefit from the leave for second parents.
*Quebec operates its own parental leave program
According to the Journal of Industrial Relations, only 43% of Canadian mothers with a household income of less than $30,000 a year receive parental leave, compared with 74% of those whose household income was $60,000 or more.
[INFO GRAPHIC - How paid family leave works in Canada]
The Pros and Cons of the Canada Child Benefit
In 2016, the Liberal government made good on its promise to increase benefit payments to parents by $5.6 billion over five years. The current Canada Child Benefit (CCB) combines the previous Universal Child Care Benefit, the Canada Child Tax Benefit, and the National Child Benefit Supplement. Eligibility and amounts are now based on household income boosting payments for those who qualify. However, inequity issues still exist. Many Indigenous families don’t apply, and newcomers to Canada without immigration status do not qualify. Furthermore, when parents share custody, split payments often penalize the lower income parent (usually mothers). This affects nearly 1.2 million children living in separated or divorced families.
In 2018, the Canada Child Benefit paid out more than $23 billion to over 3.3 million families, reducing Canada’s child poverty rate by 1.2%. Poverty rates are expected to fall further as payments increase. In its 2018 budget, the government pledged better outreach to ensure more Indigenous families receive the Canada Child Benefit.
How Canada Funds Early Learning and Childcare
After a decade-long absence, federal policy makers have shown a renewed interest in supporting quality early learning and childcare. In 2018, the federal government established its Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework pledging $7.5 billion over 10 years to add 40,000 new childcare spaces across the the country. This brings federal and provincial spending on early learning and child care to a combined $12.1 billion per year. While this may sound like a lot, it is significantly less than the 6% annual spend by most OECD countries. This means that children in Canada are far less likely to participate in an ECE program than their peers in other OECD countries.
What is the Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework?
The Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework is a mechanism to flow federal funding to provinces and territories. It focuses on creating child care services for vulnerable families including those marginalized by geography, income, family status, language, non-standard work, disability or culture. It includes a commitment to improve data collection and information about the status of childcare and children under 6 years of age. A complimentary framework was developed for Indigenous early learning and childcare.
Provincial Funding for ECE
Provinces and territories have also increased funding for early learning. 2018 budgets saw a $1.2 billion increase and 150,000 more regulated child care spaces than in 2014. Most jurisdictions have also taken steps to improve the quality and oversight of early learning. Eight out of 13 now include childcare and early years services within their education departments. For some provinces the biggest ECE investment has been in support of ECE workers through wage supplements, training bursaries and hiring incentives.
[Chart/Infographic - That shows where Canada Ranks]
Full-day junior kindergarten is offered for four year olds in Ontario and the Northwest Territories, and it is being bring rolled out in Nova Scotia. Schools in Whitehorse offer full day preschool for four year olds and Quebec is expanding its full day four-year-old program beginning in low-income communities.
Results Can be Realized in Years, Not Decades
There are encouraging signs that federal and provincial policy makers are committed to investing in quality early childhood education in the short term. In 2011, provinces and territories had doubled their funding for early education and care in the previous 5 years. By 2014 provincial/territorial spending had risen again to over $10 billion, mostly through school-offered early years programs. However, in order to ensure more Canadian families benefit, social programs need to be interconnected and access must be equitable.