When the Royal Commission on the Status of Women recommended a national childcare program in 1970, I was still a Pen-Hi student.
I never thought it would take more than a half-century for Canada to create legislation for such an important program. But, on the heels of the birth of my third grandchild, Canada is very close to doing just that. Fifty years of tireless advocacy by women, unions, childcare workers and my own political party has resulted in the passing at second reading of Bill C-35, and we are on our way to a high-quality, affordable, flexible and inclusive early learning and childcare system.
In B.C., record provincial government investments have come a long way, and now with federal commitments, the path to universal $10 per day coverage is on track for 2026.
In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, where the cost of almost everything has increased, childcare is a rare exception. Parents are already seeing as much as a 50% reduction in childcare costs, providing real relief to thousands of families. In Penticton, we now have multiple $10 per day facilities, with over 250 $10 per day centres across the province.
Last week I spoke with Amanda Burnett, a Penticton mother of two and a passionate childcare advocate. She agreed, things are definitely on the right track. She shared that, for the first time in two years, she has childcare for both her children and is no longer on a waitlist. Her childcare bill used to be more than $625 a month per child. She is now paying $200 per month per child for full-time care. That has not only removed a huge financial and emotional burden but allowed her to shift those investments to going back to school to finish her degree.
Indeed, what was true in 1970 rings just as true today. The social and economic benefits of child care are well established in 2023. Accessible child care is one of the most significant factors in promoting gender equality by allowing more parents, particularly mothers, to participate in the workforce and achieve greater economic security. Through the pandemic, women were disproportionately impacted and the fallout was devastating for gender equality.
Women have always held an increased burden for unpaid care but the pandemic ratcheted up those inequalities. Upon trying to re-enter the workforce, finding the childcare needed was a challenge for far too many women.
Often, when we think of the solutions to the labour shortages much of our region is experiencing as access and affordable housing is a key consideration. But access to affordable, flexible and inclusive child care will go a long way to getting the productive work force that is already housed in our region into the labour market.
It has been 30 years since the Liberals first promised a national childcare program. Without the NDP at the table, this would not have happened. We worked hard to achieve this legislation and pushed to make it stronger. We insisted the government prioritize non-profit daycare to also ensure accountability and for livable wages for childcare workers. We also held them to commit to long-term funding.
As this legislation goes through the House, I will continue to push to make this bill even stronger. A national childcare program will only be successful and sustainable if the workers who make it possible are treated with dignity and paid fairly. Buildings and spaces are not the key pieces of the childcare puzzle—workers are. We need to improve this bill with a workforce strategy to address staffing shortages in this sector.
This is a good news story. This legislation in another example of what can be accomplished when political parties cooperate.
A universal childcare program, much like our public health care system, brings us all a step closer to a fairer, more inclusive Canada.
Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.