By: Elizabeth Clarke
In 2018, the Canadian government proudly revealed its first ever ‘gender-based budget’, intended to promote equality and close the wage gap between Canadian men and women. This year’s federal budget released last month, does include $160 million dollars for the Department for Women and Gender Equality, which funding will be invested in part in increasing women’s economic security and advancing women’s leadership. But there is nothing in the budget to address what is arguably the single greatest barrier to Canadian women’s equal participation and financial success in the workplace – our lack of affordable, quality childcare.
Canada’s spending on childcare falls last among 10 OECD countries, and we’re one of only a handful of economically advantaged countries that don’t have a comprehensive and universal early childhood education and care system. The results of this neglect are comparatively scarce childcare services and astronomical childcare fees. The OECD’s 2018 report concluded that women working full time in Canada earn 88 cents for the dollar that their male counterparts earn and, not surprisingly, that pay inequity is worse in geographic areas with lower availability of affordable, quality childcare.
In Waterloo Region in 2018, only 18 percent of children under four had access to a space in a licensed childcare centre, and the costs of the care, which rival housing as families’ greatest expense, are cited by mothers of young children as the primary reason why they don’t work, or don’t work full time.
Canadians believe in a public education system for children aged six and over, but we’re strangely conflicted about extending the same opportunities for learning and development to younger children. Perhaps that’s because we’re influenced by traditional values that hold that mothers’ proper place is in the home. Or perhaps it’s just because we confuse early childhood education and care with mere babysitting, and don’t appreciate its tremendous benefits – to children and to women.
The OECD examined 12 countries with universal childcare programs and found that those countries’ children perform much better in school from the outset and remain in school longer, their low-income children suffer far less from the damaging effects of poverty, and their mothers and families experience less stress than countries without such programs and services. A University of Toronto study similarly concluded that quality early childhood education and care contributes to healthy child development, improves outcomes for children with special needs, reduces child poverty, and supports women’s social and economic equality. For each dollar spent on early childhood education and care, from two to seven dollars are realized in increased tax revenues and reduced social spending, according to the U of T research. And these are only two of scores of studies to yield similar outcomes.
Ontario’s provincial budget is set to be released on April 11th, but childcare advocates aren’t expecting good news. Although the government has since stated that it intends no changes, Ontario’s Premier mused as recently as two months ago about cancelling full day kindergarten. Half of Canadian provinces have capped childcare fees, but in Ontario we’re spending money instead on a childcare fee tax rebate, which does nothing to create much-needed licensed childcare spaces or lower skyrocketing costs. It certainly doesn’t promote women’s economic participation and security.
In 1984, Supreme Court of Canada Justice Rosalie Abella, one of Canada’s foremost human rights experts, stated that “child care is the ramp that provides equal access to the workforce for mothers”. It was true then and it’s still true now.