Election 2011: Early childhood education and care

All the political parties like to claim that they are family-friendly and offer policies that support families. One of the most crucial issues confronting Canadian families is early childhood education and care. Currently, only a small percentage of children have access to a regulated childcare space. Costs are prohibitive for many families, who rely on two incomes just to pay all the bills. Meanwhile, the benefits of access to high quality childcare and early learning programs are well-known: children learn better when they learn earlier, and affordable childcare can help to lift families out of poverty and strengthen the economic security of families, especially women.

CPJ believes that policies regarding childcare should be created with the intention of broadening choices for parents and providing opportunities for children. In order to assist parents of young families, CPJ believes that a national childcare program should be established in Canada, based on the principles of the best interest of children, affordability, accessibility, not-for-profit, quality, public funding and promotion of child development and learning.

The Dignity for All campaign, which CPJ co-convenes with Canada Without Poverty and Make Poverty History, has a series of draft recommendations on early learning and childcare, drawn from the expertise of members and supporters of the campaign. These recommendations include:

  • federal, provincial and territorial collaboration to create publicly funded early childhood education and care systems of high quality, affordable programs seamlessly blending care and education;
  • a strong leadership role for the federal government;
  • legislation clearly establishing national principles for care and education;
  • public planning and delivery;
  • and federal transfers of $1 billion, $1.6 billion and $2.3 billion over 3 years.

So how do the party platforms compare to these recommendations?

Conservative Party of Canada

The Conservative platform highlights the 2006 introduction of the Universal Child Care Benefit, $100 a month sent directly to parents of children under 6, as an indication of the Conservative government’s support for families. The platform makes no new promises on childcare, and does not explicitly mention early learning for children.

Green Party of Canada 

The Greens promise “flexible childcare with access for all,” in their platform. This includes a commitment to early childhood education, more workplace childcare spaces, and support for both stay-at-home parents and those in the workforce. The platform does not provide any details on what, specifically, the Green Party will do to achieve these goals. They do, however, outline a funding commitment of $500 million the first year, $700 million the second, and $1,000 million the third.

Liberal Party of Canada 

The Liberal platform offers a new Early Childhood Learning and Care Fund, beginning with a commitment of $500 million per year that will rise to $1 billion per year by the fourth year. They describe the Fund as a “new social infrastructure fund,” which provincial and territorial governments will be able to apply to in support of plans that create and operate new, affordable, high quality early learning and childcare spaces.

The long-term goal of the Liberal party is “a high-quality, affordable early childhood learning and care space for every Canadian family that wants one.” They recognize that such a goal requires cooperation with the provinces and territories, and the platform commits the Liberal Party to sustained collaboration with other governments in pursuit of this goal.

New Democratic Party of Canada

The NDP platform pledges cooperation with the provinces and territories to create and fund a Canada-wide childcare and early learning program enshrined in legislation. The details of the plan include: 25,000 spaces created each year for the next 4 years, improvements to community infrastructure to support the growth of spaces, and creation of “one-stop-shop” integrated, community-based, child-centered early learning and education centres for families.