ahmed hussen

How a Canada-Wide Child Care System Will Help Support Canadian Families

In this special episode of The Preschool Podcast, we interviewed The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development for Canada to discuss how the newly announced Canada-wide Childcare Plan, with the promise of $30 Billion over 5 years to proevide affordable childcare for families. We’ve broken down the information provided by Minister Hussen into a simple Q & A below for our readers:

Ron Spreeuwenberg: What made you push for a Canada-wide early learning and child care system and how did we get here?

Minister Hussen:

Well, it was really the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who emphasized the impact that this pandemic – the COVID-19 pandemic – has had and continues to have on parents, especially women with children who’ve been severely and disproportionately been impacted by this pandemic, in terms of job losses and in terms of not having access to childcare, both childcare in general, but also affordable childcare.

As schools have closed during the pandemic, as childcare centers, some were forced to close, the parents had a really difficult time finding accessible childcare. And in addition to that, we all know that in Canada, one of the reasons for the gap between men and women’s participation in the labor market is because a lot of women with children do not have access to affordable childcare.

But the pandemic has made it worse, much worse. Last year, our government spent a record amount of money to make sure that the childcare sector survived COVID. So, in addition to the over $400M that we transfer on an annual basis through the existing bilateral agreements with provinces and territories, we added an additional $625M in safe restart funds to ensure that the childcare sector survived.

We know that if we are to recover strongly and inclusively from the COVID-19 pandemic-induced recession, we know that we have to do better. And we know that we cannot go back to normal because normal was part of the problem.

So right now, Canadian families find themselves with limited choices for childcare. And we have seen on live television, on our Zoom [online video conference] calls, in conversations that I have had and many of our team members have had with families across the country, we’ve seen that childcare is a big challenge for a lot of Canadian parents.

And again, because of the pandemic, more and more people have understood the importance of investing in this private sector. Public sector union leaders, heads of business groups and others have really called for investment in affordable childcare as part of rebuilding better and really strengthening our social infrastructure.

So, this need for affordable childcare was an issue before the pandemic, but with the pandemic it has become even more severe in terms of the need out there. So, we felt that we need to deliver; we need to deliver for those parents; we need to deliver for those women who are excluded from the labor market because of lack of access to affordable childcare.

The ongoing fee session is particularly true for racfialized women, for example. Many of these women are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. So, we have to make sure that in our recovery, women are front and center in considering how we can help them.

And we believe that investing in affordable, accessible, high-quality and inclusive childcare will help not only those families, those parents, those women with children, but it also will help our economy because it will ensure that tens of thousands of women go back to the workforce. Our economy, our labor market shortages will be addressed. And we will have obviously stronger economic growth, more inclusive economic growth, more tax revenues for both provincial and federal governments and a better quality of life for everyone, for those kids, because they’ll have a better start in life.

When you build a system and you invest in it and you invest in it over the long term, then you can support families; you can deliver deep affordability; you can provide them with the accessibility and inclusivity that they need while maintaining the quality. You can also build the workforce that will key to that system.

Minister Ahmed Hussen

Ron Spreeuwenberg: How can we make sure that quality is maintained with this type of a national system? Is there certain principles that provinces and territories have to agree on to ensure a high standard of care?

Minister Hussen:

Absolutely. And in fact, the good news is we’re not starting from zero. Since 2017, our government – the government of Canada – has had bilateral agreements on early learning and childcare with each and every province and territory to deliver childcare funding. That is meant to ensure affordability, quality, accessibility and inclusivity. So, we’re building on a very strong foundation.

And through this next chapter of building a Canada-wide system of early learning and childcare, we will build on the existing foundation that the agreements that we have with provinces and territories, they identify priority areas for investment.

We also require provinces and territories to provide us with annual reports on progress that they’ve made towards these goals that we all signed into 2017. And they also have to demonstrate where the federal money went in terms of the creation of more affordable childcare spaces and ensuring quality, accessibility and inclusivity for their residents.

So, we will make sure that we follow the same framework to create a Canada-wide system with significant… we’re putting forward significant funding, but also long-term funding, permanent funding: $30B over the next five years and then $9.2B dollars every year after that.

So, this Canada-wide system will ensure that we continue with the accountability that Canadians expect of us with respect to where the money is going. We will have a strong baseline of common, publicly-available data on which you can measure us as Canadians, you can measure progress. We will report to Canadians periodically and we will continuously aim to improve the system.

Secondly, in December – even before budget 2021 – in the fall economic statement, we allocated $420M dollars just for investing in early-childhood educators. So, this is money that is going from the government of Canada to the provinces and territories to invest in early-childhood educators: hiring more, training them better, incentivizing them and so on.

We know that we cannot maintain and improve early learning and childcare quality without a strong and highly trained and highly motivated early-childhood education workforce. So we are investing there. And budget 2021 is also the system that we intend to build, also understands that you cannot ensure better quality and you cannot build more affordable childcare spaces without investing in the workforce, the early-childhood educators.

So, we’ll continue to work with provinces and territories to really create a Canada-wide system that works for all families, that all children can be part of and that can, by the way, deliver quick results, that can save families money right away but also over the long period of time.

But also in addition to affordability, we absolutely are prioritizing quality, accessibility, [and] inclusivity. So, all of those are priorities for us. And again, the 2017 agreements emphasize that as well, which is going into the next chapter in building a truly national system of affordable, inclusive, accessible and high-quality early learning and childcare.

Ron Spreeuwenberg: Parents before the pandemic were having a hard time paying for child care. One of the parts of your plan is to reduce fees to $10 by 2026… but of course that doesn’t help parents who are struggling to pay their child care fees today – what about these parents who need relief now?

Minister Hussen:

The good news is, as part of our efforts to build this Canada-wide system, we understand that it’s going to take a number of years, obviously. But we also are very keen to deliver quick relief to parents.

So, by the end of next year, by the end of 2022, we aim to reduce childcare fees – the average childcare fees in Canada – by half. So, while we intend to bring the childcare fees to $10 by 2025 and 2026, before that we intend to deliver relief directly to parents by reducing childcare fees by an average of 50% by the end of next year.

In addition to that, remember, we provided a one-time increase to the Canada Child Benefit in May of last year to help parents facing higher pandemic-related costs. And then in July of 2020, we increased the Canada Child Benefit permanently to take into account the increase in the cost of living.

This year, we also… so, the increase last year was for all kids receiving the Canada Child Benefit. This year we’re providing an additional $1,200 per child under the age of six for low- and middle-income parents entitled to the Canada Child Benefit. The first payment went out in May. The next payment will go out in July and October of this year.

So, we’re continuing those supports to parents while at the same time targeting the delivery of immediate relief by the end of next year by cutting childcare fees in half. So, that’s dollars directly going back into the pockets of these families.

And also, remember those families who are now excluded from the system because of the high costs. When we reduce the fees by half, some of them will be able to come back to the system. And then when we bring the fees even further to $10, virtually all of them will now be able to come, to fall off the waiting lists and actually come into the system.

The other piece that always, always accompanies affordability in addition to quality is spaces. You can’t just focus on affordability while not building enough spaces. We know that the more the fees come down, the higher the demand will be for affordable but high-quality childcare spaces. So, we have to create and increase dramatically the number of affordable, high-quality childcare spaces across Canada.

And this plan includes that. It’s not just a plan for affordability, it’s not just a plan for quality, but it’s also a plan to massively expand the number of affordable childcare spaces so that kids can get off the waiting list and actually have a chance to succeed by getting access to high-quality, inclusive, accessible and affordable childcare across Canada. We want to make sure no child is left behind.

By the way, this $30B investment in the first five years includes $2B dollars to develop an indigenous early learning and childcare system in co-development with indigenous peoples, communities and organizations and governments. And that will be indigenous peoples contribution to building the Canada-wide system that we’re all aiming for.

Ron Spreeuwenberg: How will The Canada Child Benefit Program and Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care System connect over time?

Minister Hussen:

To be honest, they work together; they complement each other. It is important to recognize that families need help with the increasing costs of raising children. And when I talk to parents from coast to coast to coast, the Canada Child Benefit is very much valued by Canadian families with kids.

And they use it for different things. Some parents use it to buy healthy food. Others use it to buy school supplies and new clothing. Others use it to sign up their kids for activities that cost money that they weren’t able to sign their kids up for before. So, different parents use it for different things.

I can tell you that it is really, really appreciated from coast to coast to coast. But having said that, in addition to the Canada Child Benefit, with the investment to build a Canada-wide system, we have to realize that what we deliver – deep affordability, high quality and accessibility – is a system. We have to build a system.

Tax credits do not deliver a system. Tax credits do not provide real help for parents who are on wait lists, for example, whose kids are waiting to have access to childcare. Tax credits don’t help to increase the number of early-childhood educators who are really key to this system. So, we have to build a system while at the same time delivering help and access to supports to parents with children through the Canada Child Benefit. So, we have to do both.

But one of the things that we’ve learned from other jurisdictions that have successfully implemented an affordable childcare system is that when you build a system and you invest in it and you invest in it over the long term, then you can support families, you can deliver deep affordability, you can provide them with the accessibility and the inclusivity that they need while maintaining the quality.

You can also build the workforce that is key to that system. That’s what we are aiming for. Canada Child Benefit, we have increased it before, we are increasing it again and will continue to support parents with children.

It’s not just a plan for affordability, it’s not just a plan for quality, but it’s also a plan to massively expand the number of affordable child care spaces so that kids can get off the waiting lists and actually have a chance to succeed by getting access to high-quality, inclusive, accessible and, affordable child care across Canada.

The Honourable Minister Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

Ron Spreeuwenberg: What are you hearing from Canadians regarding their concerns, first impressions, and reactions around this proposed plan?

Minister Hussen:

Families are very excited by our government’s investments in early learning and childcare. They support these investments to build a Canada-wide system. We know many young families are juggling high costs of early learning and childcare, which is really putting a big strain on family budgets.

Let me give you an example: In my hometown of Toronto, there’s parents who are paying $50 to $65 a child per day for childcare fees. So, I’m hearing from them that they’re facing high early learning and childcare fees; they’re facing high housing costs; they’re facing an increase in the cost of living.

This will deliver real help in addition to the Canada Child Benefit, which, by the way, we’ve provided over 3.9 million families with over $26B in annual Canada Child Benefit payments between July 2019 through to June 2020. By the way, the Canada Child Benefit has helped lift over 434,000 kids out of poverty.

While we do that, we know that childcare fees are a big strain on family budgets for those who can even afford the system. Others are being excluded from the system because they can’t afford those high fees, and especially women with children being held back from the workforce because they have to choose between working or staying at home to take care of the kids. They can’t do both because childcare fees are so expensive.

So, we have to deliver relief now. And when they have seen our plan, they’re very excited by it. They can’t wait for that first stage of relief next year where we cut fees by half, followed by our next effort to bring childcare fees down to $10 a day per child within five years.

So, we know parents need relief now. The current system is leaving too many kids and families behind, particularly low income and racialized families. In some urban centers, we know that childcare fees per month for one child can be as much as or close to rent or mortgage payments. So, this is unsustainable for these families and it’s really difficult for them.

So, under our Canada-wide childcare system, a family, the average family could save up to about $15,000 a year out of pocket on childcare by the end of 2022. Because there’s a family, for example, there’s families with two children living in Toronto – one toddler and one preschool aged kid – they could be paying as much as $30,000 annually now out of pocket for their children to attend childcare.

Those families will see a reduction of 50% in the average fees, which will see savings of up to $15,000 back into their pocket. Imagine what families can do with those types of savings where we are able, through the system, to put back thousands of dollars back in their pocket. They’ll reinvest in their families. They’ll invest in school activities, in activities for the family. They may invest in more educational materials for their children and so on and so forth and buying healthy food and clothing for their kids.

So, this is real help and we have to deliver the system that works for them, one that is affordable, that is accessible, that produces high quality childcare, but also is inclusive of all kids. We want to make sure that every child sees himself or herself in this system. That includes indigenous children; it includes racialized kids; it includes Canadian children with disabilities. We have to make sure the system accommodates all children and leaves no child behind.

Ron Spreeuwenberg: Can you break down for our audience how you think this investment will benefit the people of Canada, at large?

Minister Hussen:

It will enable those families to save a lot of money. So, we will be putting back into the pockets of families who are now paying very high childcare fees. So, [that is] number one.

Number two, a lot of women will go back into the workforce. We literally have an opportunity through this Canada-wide system to close the gap between men and women’s participation in the labor market. In that process, by creating more childcare spaces and training more early-childhood educators we will also be creating thousands of good jobs in the childcare sector.

And then the larger economy will be able to fill and fill jobs now because of labor shortages in some parts of Canada and in some industries. Those labor shortages will be reduced because of more people accessing the labor market because of affordable childcare.

So this is, yes, it’s a social issue, but it’s also a really key economic issue. This helps create jobs; it spurs economic growth; it creates a generation of well-engaged and well-prepared, educationally, young learners. Those kids will have a much earlier start in life in terms of their education and their ability to function and succeed in our society.

The impact that early learning and childcare across the country can make through this system is really, really important because it enables GDP [gross domestic product] growth, for example. It enables a growth in Canada’s productivity.

And we’ve seen this. This is not just theory. We’ve seen this in jurisdictions that have implemented these measures. At the time of Quebec’s introduction of affordable childcare in 1997, women’s labour force participation rate in Quebec was 4% or four percentage points lower than the rest of Canada.

Today, Quebec women’s labour force participation rate is four points higher than the rest of Canada. And Quebec women with children under the age of three have some of the highest employment rates in the world, not just in Canada [but] in the world. Studies have also shown that childcare alone has raised Quebec’s gross domestic product by 1.7%.

So, this is this is key. So, not only will we see good jobs that help families individually but we will see increased maternal labour force participation. We will see better economic growth and increasing GDP and productivity. TD Economics has pointed to a range of studies that have shown that for every dollar spent on early learning and childcare, the broader economy receives between a $1.50 and $2.80 in return.

So, this is one of the best investments that we can make as a society for our own prosperity down the road. So, not only will the children benefit and have the best possible start in life but our country’s economic future will be that much better and that much brighter.

Curious to learn more about the proposed plan for child care providers? Take a look at our article that dives into this.

Kiah Price

Kiah Price is a Social Media Specialist at HiMama. Prior to HiMama she was an Early Childhood Educator in a preschool classroom in Toronto. She is the Jill of all trades at HiMama from dipping her toes in Sales, Customer Success, Operations, and Marketing! She enjoys sweating through spin classes, hot yoga, and biking along the waterfront trails in Toronto. She loves traveling and trying new foods and wines across the globe- 29 countries and counting!