This is what you get when Canada appoints its first female finance minister-a proposal for a national system of high-quality early learning and childcare, that is great for kids, pays for itself in long term benefits to society, creates jobs, reduces poverty, assists parents in unprecedented ways and helps women remain in the work force.
Last week, at the Liberal Party policy convention Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that a nationwide early learning and childcare system will be a key piece in the Liberal government’s COVID-19 recovery plan.
Ms. Freeland pointed out that the pandemic has caused a frightening decline in female workforce participation. Literally hundreds of thousands of Canadian mothers left their jobs to look after children when schools and daycares closed.
Prior to the pandemic women were providing 40% of household income. They were vital to their families’ financial security and the nation’s economic health. Experts agree it is not possible, for Canada to have a successful economic recovery post-pandemic without women going back to work. A universal daycare system in Canada will be a huge incentive and support as women seek to return to their jobs.
A national plan to provide quality early childhood education and daycare almost became a reality in 2005. The Liberals had crafted a ground -breaking agreement for universal childcare in Canada that had been officially agreed to by every province. Unfortunately, in 2006 Stephen Harper was elected and dismantled the plan. Since then, political expediency has stood in the way of bringing it back.
Ms. Freeland says the pandemic has created a childcare crisis for women and this gives our country a window of opportunity to finally provide federally funded affordable quality universal childcare to every Canadian family that needs and wants it.
I know the New Democratic Party will be behind the plan because last summer my New Democratic Member of Parliament Leah Gazan was circulating a petition calling for a universal childcare and early learning program in Canada. I not only signed her petition but agreed to make regular donations to help Ms. Gazan in her quest.
I hope the Conservative Party will lend support as well. The Toronto Star has reported that more than 40 members of the current Conservative caucus are publicly anti-abortion supporters. Ms. Freeland’s proposal is their chance to put their money where their mouth is.
Research repeatedly shows that two of the most frequently cited reasons women give for having abortions are financial concerns and the impact the pregnancy could have on their careers. It makes sense that the availability of quality childcare would help ease those concerns and could conceivably further lower our country’s abortion rate which is already at its lowest point in more than a decade.
I am only speculating that one of the reasons the Liberal government is making a federally funded childcare program a priority is because we have our first female finance minister. But I am sure it didn’t hurt. Ms. Freeland spoke for thirty minutes at the recent Liberal policy convention and spent almost the entire time talking about childcare. Our Deputy Prime Minister is the mother of three and well knows the challenges of managing both parenting and a career. When she was negotiating Canada’s NAFTA deal, she told a reporter that sometimes figuring out childcare arrangements for her three kids was almost as tricky as figuring out a trade agreement.
I will be thrilled if the Liberal party goes through with their plan for an affordable national childcare and early education plan. It will be good for kids, good for women, good for families and good for our country.