I call the meeting to order. The clerk has advised me that we are good to go.
Welcome to meeting number 58 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, with some appearing remotely by Zoom and some attending in person in the room.
To ensure an orderly meeting, please direct all your questions or interventions through me, the chair, and wait until I recognize you by name. You have the choice of speaking in either official language of your choice. For those appearing remotely, there is translation on your Surface device. For those in the room, there is translation using the headphones. If there is an interruption in translation services, please get my attention; we'll suspend while it is worked out.
I would like to remind members that no screenshots or in-room shots are allowed while the committee is in hearings.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Friday, February 3, 2023, the committee will continue its study of Bill , an act respecting early learning and child care in Canada.
I don't think technical tests to check the connectivity of witnesses have been completed yet. I would like to inform all members that witnesses appearing virtually today and members participating remotely are required to use a headset approved by the House of Commons. If they do not, they will not participate verbally in the meeting, but members will still have the right to vote in the meeting.
I would like to welcome our witnesses. We have Minister Gould, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development. Welcome back again. You are a regular before this committee, Minister.
From the Department of Employment and Social Development, we have Michelle Lattimore, director general, federal secretariat; Cheri Reddin, director general, indigenous early learning; Jill Henry, director, policy, indigenous early learning; Kelly Nares, director, federal secretariat; and Christian Paradis, director, federal secretariat on early learning and child care.
Minister, the floor is yours for five minutes.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair and committee, for having me to speak to Bill . As you mentioned, I've been here quite frequently recently, and it's always good to be back and spend time with my colleagues.
I am pleased to be accompanied today by the Director General of the Federal Secretariat on Early Learning and Child Care, Michelle Lattimore, the Director General of the Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Secretariat, Cheri Reddin, as well as Directors Jill Henry, Kelly Nares and Christian Paradis.
Working with provinces, territories and indigenous partners, the Government of Canada is transforming the way child care is delivered.
As has been said many times, child care is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Parents should have the opportunity to build both a family and a career, and children deserve the best possible start in life.
As part of Budget 2021, the Government of Canada made a transformative investment to help give them that start—up to $30 billion over five years to build a Canada-wide early learning and child care system.
Since that announcement, we have signed agreements with each province and territory to reduce fees everywhere outside of Quebec, support the creation of high-quality child care spaces, and ensure early childhood educators are better supported.
The Canada-wide system is already benefiting tens of thousands of families. Fees for regulated child care have been reduced in all jurisdictions outside of Quebec and the Yukon, which already had affordable child care systems. This system is a critical step toward our goal to see on average $10-a-day child care across Canada by March 2026.
To ensure the success of the system, we are also working hard with provinces and territories to create 250,000 new full-time regulated and primarily not-for-profit child care spaces by the end of March 2026, as well as to attract, train and retain the best early childhood educators.
We have put Bill before the House to ensure future generations of families across Canada can continue benefitting from this system.
The proposed legislation reinforces the government's commitment to support provinces, territories and indigenous partners in building a Canada-wide system. It will ensure that federal funding will be sustained; it promises accountability; and it further underscores our commitment to human rights conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
Bill is the result of comprehensive feedback from our partners and stakeholders. It is driven by shared interests, close partnerships and collaboration.
This proposed legislation respects provincial and territorial jurisdiction, and the vision and principles of both the 2017 multilateral early learning and child care framework that was developed with provinces and territories and the indigenous early learning and child care framework that was co-developed with indigenous partners.
With Bill C-35, provinces, territories, and Indigenous partners would benefit from the assurance of a sustained federal commitment to early learning and child care.
By enshrining our shared principles and vision into federal law, we would be building stability and predictability into the child care system.
Mr. Chair, our child care system is working everywhere in Canada, and more and more families are benefiting. This bill has been conceived to ensure that if it is passed as written, families will continue to benefit from these investments for generations to come.
Now we are pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you, Minister, for being here. We know how important child care is for parents across this country, and in particular we know how important access to child care is for all families.
We heard from Michelle Lattimore this past week that the “framework sets the foundation for a shared long-term vision for early learning in child care, guided by the agreed-upon principles of quality, accessibility, affordability, flexibility and inclusivity.”
However, when I asked Ms. Lattimore about the wait-lists in Canada, there had been no data collected to know that number. It is odd to have a framework to solve a problem without knowing the numbers to start with.
Also, when MP Falk asked about consultation, Ms. Lattimore said that they “were seeking a response on the legislation and the discussion guide outlining what [they] expected to see in the legislation.” She said, “Specific responses on challenges that are being faced by rural or remote families in accessing child care have not been specifically addressed”.
The report does not break down what we heard from the perspective of not-for-profit or for-profit providers. Minister, if the federal government has no purview under the licencing and agrees that there is a place for all forms of child care, that is up to the individual provinces to decide. Why is there a specific call-out in the guiding principles, yet there's the contradiction that you're only primarily focusing on not-for-profit and public providers? If the goal is quality, accessibility, flexibility and inclusivity, why leave out a sector in the vision of child care that provides care for so many kids across the country?
Thank you, Ms. Ferreri.
I think it's important to clarify that so long as they're a licensed provider, they're included in the child care agreement signed with provinces and territories. It doesn't distinguish between existing for-profit and not-for-profit providers. In fact, the not-for-profit umbrella includes home care, which could be private or not-for-profit, so in fact no one is actually left out in this system.
When it comes to wait-lists, most provinces and territories don't have a good understanding. Part of the challenge is that it has been an ad hoc system for so long. You put your name on multiple wait-lists and see where you're going to be able to get a spot. I did this myself, as a parent. I've heard from countless people across the country who have done the same thing. Day cares and centres say they don't have a good, accurate sense, because they might have 60 or 100 families on their wait-list, but half of those could be on other wait-lists as well.
We know that there is a demand and there is a need in urban, rural and remote communities. All of that is contemplated within the multilateral frameworks.
In fact, I was in Saskatchewan just on Monday. Since signing the agreement, the Government of Saskatchewan has announced 4,000 new spaces, many of which are in rural and remote communities.
I think you're going to be hearing from Pierre Fortin after me, who has done exceptional research on child care, particularly in Quebec and in the CPE, the Centres de la petite enfance. He has some pretty extraordinary research that demonstrates just how significant the quality gap is with regard to for-profit and not-for-profit providers.
We also recognize that, as this is being funded through public dollars, we want to ensure that any investment that we're making is going directly back into the provision of child care. There is considerable research that demonstrates that there is higher quality, usually, within the not-for-profit system. It doesn't mean there aren't excellent for-profit providers, and that's why we've grandfathered all existing licensed spaces into the agreement.
Of course, it's an opt-in decision within each province or territory, but we've seen incredible take-up across the country—between 95% and 98%, depending on the province or territory—of all licensed providers, irrespective of the type of child care that they are providing.
You said in your opening remarks that access to child care is a necessity and you said families have the right to build a family.
What I would ask you, in listening to hundreds, or thousands actually, because there are Facebook groups of thousands of families who can't access child care right now.... One woman who wrote to me has been on a wait-list since she was seven weeks pregnant. Her child is now 14 months old, and she says there is no mother's right to access. She has given up on having any more children.
Given your words in your opening remarks saying that parents should have the right to build a family, what do you say to people like Leanne who say that this agreement does not give parents choice? She says it gives all the control to the operators and she has chosen not to build a family because of this agreement.
I would say that's exactly why these agreements are in place. Until we had these agreements, there often wasn't a choice because it was either too expensive or there wasn't a space available.
As I said in my last answer to you, we know that space creation is really important. It's why we've contemplated building 250,000 additional spaces across the country. It's so we can make sure that people like Leanne and families who want to have children but maybe can't because of affordability or because they don't have access to reliable child care are going to have that.
This agreement changes the nature of how child care is delivered in this country in a way that is going to have transformational impacts on families, on women and on the economy.
We don't have to look far. We can look at the experience of Quebec, which, 25 years ago, brought in universal, affordable, available child care.
Thank you, Minister, for being here.
I know that for decades governments, provincially and federally, have been looking for ways to strengthen child care, and many Canadians have aspired to the dream of a universal child care program. To me, the fact that we're here at this point is just incredible. I know that in my community of Don Valley East and throughout the Don Mills corridor, this is a very popular program. I'm happy that we're at this stage.
Can you talk about the economic benefits of such a program, not just to families but also to people who are involved in the sector and work in the sector?
Child care is one of those amazing policies that is smart social and economic policy. In fact, if you look at the Quebec experience, they have received more in increased revenue from income taxes than they spend on the program, so the return on investment for the broader society is astonishing.
Part of that is because parents with young children, predominantly women, can stay in or re-enter the workforce. Quebec has one of the highest rates of women with children under the age of four who are working. That has long-term impacts and financial benefits, both to the woman—who has financial autonomy and sovereignty over her finances and doesn't have that gap of a number of years when she's not earning, if that's her choice—as well to the family, because there can be greater income at a time when they're spending the most when they have a small child.
For every dollar invested in child care, we see a $1.50 to $2.80 return to the broader economy. The estimates are that when this child care program is fully implemented within the next three or four years, we're going to see billions of dollars returned to the economy, and I think it's a 2% increase to GDP.
It's huge. This is such a smart investment we can be making, because it has such positive benefits, not just economically but also socially.
I would like to welcome the Minister and the witnesses who are here with us.
Minister, we can agree that Bill , which was introduced by the NDP in 2006, is the ancestor of Bill , with a few differences. However, one of those differences concerns me: Bill C-35 makes no mention of an exemption for Quebec, although we are well aware that Quebec is a forerunner and a leader in the area of early childhood and daycares, as you yourself have said.
It has now been over 25 years since the Government of Quebec adopted a family policy that led to the creation of a network of affordable early childhood education services that help to create better living conditions and a better balance between parenting and work responsibilities for millions of families. Given that fact, do you believe it would be useful to include a clause in Bill to permit Quebec to withdraw from this program, unconditionally and with full compensation, to avoid negotiations and arguments between the federal and provincial governments every five years?
The purpose of Bill is to guide the federal government so that subsequent governments, whether or not they are Liberal, as I hope they will be, are guided by these principles and objectives when they negotiate with the provinces and territories.
Of course, Quebec is already a leader when it comes to these principles and objectives, as you say. Ultimately, what we want to do is improve child care services in the rest of Canada so they are at the same level as the services in Quebec. Quebec has also committed to creating 30,000 new child care spaces under the agreement and we are going to maintain a very positive relationship with Quebec.
As well, I have to say that at the federal-provincial meetings, it was very helpful to have access to Quebec's experience, through my former counterpart, who was very generous in this regard, in fact. This enabled the provinces and territories to learn about Quebec's experience.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
It's nice to see you, Minister.
I know the Department of Justice is working on a co-developed process for free, prior and informed consent and that Bill includes a commitment to furthering UNDRIP. This was indicated by Madame Reddin in the last meeting, but we know this response isn't adequate, because we know there cannot be one single definition for “free, prior and informed consent”. Rather, as it is law, in fact, that circumstances determine how it's applied. This would also be true for Bill .
Therefore, will the minister acknowledge this and take appropriate measures to enshrine the right of indigenous peoples to make decisions in matters impacting our own children?
I share this because it's the very foundation of reconciliation, especially in light of the findings of the TRC, which were based on the testimony of residential school survivors who were robbed from their families. This government has been stalling on enshrining FPIC—free, prior and informed consent. We're coming up to the two-year mark; you have a month and a half left. This is part of the law. You had two years to develop a plan, and there's nothing on the table yet. This isn't acceptable. We have an opportunity here to do the right thing.
Again I'm wondering, Minister, if you'll acknowledge this and take appropriate measures to enshrine FPIC and ensure the rights of indigenous peoples to have full free, prior and informed consent over matters impacting our children.
Thank you, Ms. Gazan, for being here and for your intervention.
We certainly share the same objective. I think it's very important to see Bill as a tool complementary to the co-developed framework on indigenous early learning and child care.
One thing we have been very careful not to do is have Bill C-35 go beyond the bounds of the co-developed framework that we did with indigenous early learning and child care, which was announced in 2018 and endorsed by the AFN, ITK and MNC at the time.
I've noted one thing very clearly in the travels I've done in the past year around the country. I made a specific note while visiting with indigenous communities and leaders advancing IELCC: This is distinctions-based, indigenous-led and culturally relevant, and it incorporates language learning as well. It's very much indigenous-led and something that is.... We are a funding partner. We co-developed this, but we need to see this as a partnership—
I think that's all positive, going back to Bill , but all future legislation is supposed to be in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, so I would push back on that.
I will move on to wages and working conditions.
I think everybody knows I was formerly an early childhood educator. I'm very proud. We know the average wage for an early childhood educator is $19.50 an hour. That's not a liveable wage in most places.
Unions representing child care workers support adding an explicit, clear commitment to decent work to Bill . We know that in order to make this work, we need a robust workforce. We also know that research, in study after study, indicates that poor pay and working conditions are deterrents to joining the sector. That's exactly why I left my job as an ECE. I didn't want to live on the no-salary we were provided for the important work we do.
Is your government resistant to adding language that establishes liveable wages and fairer working conditions as guiding principles for federal funding? I say this because your party, in a platform in 2021, came out and vowed to push for a $25 minimum wage for personal support workers. I support that. Care work is critical work.
Are you willing to support the same sort of liveable wage for early childhood educators?
I absolutely support a liveable wage for early childhood educators, and I have been in a lot of discussions with provincial and territorial counterparts on this issue.
This legislation, as I mentioned, is about the federal role. Wages are the purview, when it comes to child care, of provinces and territories; however, the multilateral frameworks and the legislation highlight quality. Obviously we can't have quality if we don't have a talented, caring, well-compensated workforce. Each of the agreements requires that provinces and territories put forward plans to recruit and retain ECEs.
We've seen over the past year many provinces and territories put wage top-ups in place. Often they're not as much as is needed, but I can say that for all of my provincial and territorial counterparts, this is the number one thing they are working on this year. For the national advisory council, that's the first piece of work they're doing as well.
We're up for the challenge.
This is a nation-building endeavour. This is a really exciting thing that's happening across the country. Provinces and territories are increasing seats at colleges for ECEs. The College of the North Atlantic, for example, in Newfoundland, and Sask Polytechnic in Saskatchewan are putting together strategies. Again, all this information is public on the Government of Canada's website. Everyone can look up the action plans and can look up the bilateral agreements.
They have to put in place retention plans as well. Manitoba has done a great job in terms of putting forward a benefits and pension plan. They have more work to do, but they're working on it. B.C. has done some really great work in a new program for high school students so that they can graduate as an accredited ECE and not have to go to college. There are lots of really interesting and innovative things happening around the country.
Whether it's a national advisory council on early learning and child care or the upcoming FPT meeting, the workforce is going to be the main topic that we will be discussing, because it's fundamental to making the system a success.
Thank you, Chair. Good morning to my colleagues and the minister and everybody else. Thank you for being here.
I'll tell a quick story. A hundred years ago, when our kids were very young, I can remember very well sitting down with my wife Denise to make a decision on whether she could afford to go to work or had to stay home. The costs even then were so significant. I remember that we were there with a calculator. We had two kids, so it would be this much and you make this much, but then there's the mileage and all these things, so we made a conscious decision that Denise would stay home for many years to look after the kids because we couldn't afford day care.
Obviously, all of us have constituents who come in and tell us those same stories. Costs now are anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 per year for families. Those are after-tax dollars. It's just significant. Again, as I said in our last meeting, we're all here to do great things for our constituents and our country, but this program is truly transformational.
Could you comment on how significant it is for families, number one, and what an economic opportunity it's going to be to bring so many parents, in particular women, back into the workforce and what that's going to do for our economy?
That number is substantial.
Following along with that, I remember when it was announced. I'm in Saint John—Rothesay, New Brunswick, and our provincial government is a Conservative government, with Premier Higgs, and it was Dominic Cardy who was minister at that point, I believe. I remember looking at our province and across the country and saying that there are probably going to be a lot of provinces that won't sign on, and it's going to be a challenge. To your credit and to the department's credit, they signed up one by one, I say begrudgingly, but they know it's a good program. Whether it was Premier Kenney, Premier Moe or Premier Higgs, they knew it was a good program.
You went across the country and you negotiated these deals. Can you share your experiences of how that went? You probably had more challenges in some places than in others, but can you share with us how that rolled out across the country?
Thank you, Minister.
There is no doubt at all that the welfare of the child should be at the epicentre of this conversation. The best investment we can ever make is in our children. When we have mentally healthy children—psychologically and physically safe children, who feel psychologically and physically safe—we get mentally healthy adults. Without a doubt, this is such a huge topic.
You said in your national framework, “quality, accessibility, affordability, inclusivity and flexibility”. These are the pillars for which you are fighting, which I completely concur with.
I ask you, Minister, if you would be open to amending the bill as it is currently written under proposed paragraph 7(1)(a) to say “all”. We know that the provinces set the standards for child care, not the federal government, so it would be to “facilitate access to all early learning and child care programs and services”.
Would you be willing to amend it to that, so that we are not excluding over half pf the providers? According to Stats Canada, over half of all child care in Canada is unlicensed and home-based child care.
Would you be willing to amend it to add the word “all”?.
I'm sorry. I apologize if I mistook that.
I would say that when we see parties come together from across the country, we know that we've done something right. We see that, I think, with the Canada disability benefit as well. This committee had the opportunity to talk to Canadians and work with the minister in terms of historic legislation. I would put this in that category as well.
There is some fear from this sector, though, that at some point in time in the future a government will rip up these agreements. That's coming from service providers. That's coming from those people today who are receiving the service and the reduced fees and all the benefits that come with it.
Can you give some assurance to the committee and to those watching with regard to how this legislation is protected on a go-forward basis? We've seen political theatre in the past. We went through that in the last election—i.e., if these agreements are signed, they're going to be ripped up. I guess I would look to you for some assurance in terms of how we assure Canadians that this program is here for the long haul.
The committee will resume its study of Bill , an act respecting early learning and child care in Canada.
To assist the interpreters in their work, I kindly remind all members and witnesses appearing today to introduce themselves when speaking, and to speak slowly. You may use the official language of your choice. If there is an interruption in interpretation services, please get my attention. We'll suspend while it is being corrected.
Please direct your questions and responses through me, the chair, and wait until I recognize you.
We will begin this last hour with three witnesses: Monsieur Pierre Fortin, emeritus professor of economics; Krystal Churcher, chair of the Association of Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs; and Dr. Sophie Mathieu, senior program specialist at the Vanier Institute of the Family.
We will begin with Mr. Fortin
Mr. Fortin, the floor is yours for five minutes.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
“Emeritus professor” just means that I'm old, so don't worry about the title.
I'm very enchanted and most honoured to have this invitation from you.
I will begin in French, but then switch to English.
My presentation will focus on Quebec's experience in the last 25 years.
At a time when the entire country has embarked on a process of rapid development of child care services, it is important to understand the successes and difficulties Quebec has experienced since 1997, so that everyone's judgment over the coming years will be informed.
Quebec’s Educational Childcare Act of 1996 set two explicit objectives. One was to help families improve their work-life balance. The second was to enhance child development with a strong emphasis on equality of opportunity.
After 25 years, there are two broad outcomes. First, work-life balance has made huge progress. Second, child development and equality of opportunity have been enhanced, but are still very much a work in progress.
Quebec parents initially had access to child care spaces at a low universal daily fee of $5, which has been adjusted upward to, currently, $8.85. Since 2009, a private full-fee, for-profit sector has been allowed to develop competitively with the low-fee, non-profit sector by giving parents access to a generous provincial refundable tax credit on child care expenses.
I would emphasize eight takeaways from this 25-year experiment.
First, child care utilization has expanded in the province to around 300,000 spaces, which is up from 79,000 in 1997. The child care system has remained hugely popular ever since 1997, at over 90%.
Second, system costs have been under control. The total cost in 2022 is some $3.1 billion, which is somewhat less than the current OECD median of 0.6% of GDP.
Third, the labour force participation of Quebec women has risen to the highest level worldwide. It's on par with Sweden. In 2022, 88% of Quebec women aged 25 to 54 were in the labour force, compared to 84% in other provinces and 76% in the United States.
Fourth, women’s economic security and lifetime wages have increased significantly. The male-female hourly wage gap in Quebec has been cut by half in the last 20 years, going down from 17% to 9%. Women can now pursue continuous careers instead of staggered careers that are caught in a string of job separations, promotion delays and wage stagnation after every new birth.
Fifth, our best estimate is that Quebec’s GDP is likely 1.5%—or currently $8 billion—higher than it would be without the child care system.
Sixth, the larger labour force and broad economic activity allow the child care program to more than pay for itself. It has not required any increase in taxes. The fiscal surpluses can be reinvested to expand public services or to reduce taxes. There's a choice.
Seventh, the unanimous findings of the psycho-medical literature are that the quality of child care and its favourable impact on child development are highest in the low-fee, non-profit early childhood centres—the centres de la petite enfance, or CPE,—and lowest in the private full-fee, for-profit centres.
There is no way to escape the conclusion that private markets for child care have, unfortunately, been a quality failure. I'm saying “unfortunately” because I have defended private market solutions throughout my career, but a fact is a fact. It therefore appears very clear to most—including many private for-profit providers—that the way for the province to go about this from now on is to raise quality levels, by all means and everywhere, up to CPE standards.
Last but not least, access for disadvantaged children to good-quality care is lagging and should be a top priority for policy.
In conclusion, the Quebec system has not been following a Robin Hood-type targeted approach but the Scandinavian tradition of universality. The new federal transfers to provinces for child care are also conditioned on generalizing the Scandinavian approach to all of Canada. The Quebec evidence compellingly suggests that this is the way to go.
There are three main lessons to be drawn.
One, the economic well-being of women has been greatly enhanced.
Two, there has been no need to increase taxes.
Three, the obvious challenges now are these. One is getting rid of the remaining shortages of spaces. Two is increasing quality everywhere up to CPE standards. Three is attracting more disadvantaged children into the high-quality sector.
Thank you very much.
Good morning. I am very grateful for the opportunity to share with this committee this morning. My name is Krystal Churcher. I am a private child care operator in Alberta. I am also the chair of the Alberta Association of Childcare Entrepreneurs, which is a non-profit industry association that represents the interests of private child care operators in Alberta, who currently make up 70% of our child care delivery.
What we have heard around Bill and the Canada-wide early learning and child care program is all very high-level information with very lofty intentions. I want to provide some of the on-the-ground, real-life experiences that operators and families are facing.
This program and legislation are all about the long term and entrench the federal government's vision for early learning and child care. It is critical that we move forward in an aligned way that respects the rights of children to quality, flexible child care and choice for parents.
The goal of this bill is for all families to have access to high-quality, affordable, inclusive child care. However, what we are seeing on the ground is the human toll and the impact around the rollout of this program.
The bill was introduced without adequate consultation with all industry stakeholders and without respecting how the child care sector has evolved in provincial jurisdictions across the country. What we're seeing is a program that has created a demand without the infrastructure to support it, which is causing wait-lists, a two-tiered system and undue stress to families and operators. Women entrepreneurs are facing bankruptcy and closure of businesses that have now lost all their value. The system is, frankly, not equitably accessible and is failing to meet the promises to parents and families. Operators are asking what the real cost is of meeting this $10-a-day goal. Parents are losing choice; the quality of programming is at risk; educators are burned out; and women are losing their businesses.
Bill does not sufficiently recognize that Canada's current child care system still very much depends upon thousands of private operators despite directional preference for the non-profit business model. When subsidies go to child care spaces rather than directly to parents, it becomes a form of soft coercion. This doesn't create options that respect the difference of families or provide them with a form of child care they choose.
Decreased fees, which are also only available at specific centres, are actually eliminating parental choice and provide a forced standardized system. By limiting access only to programs that are predominantly non-profit, this program is forcing families to surrender their choice in child care.
While this program advocates for the full economic potential of women, our sector is made up of largely female entrepreneurs like me, and we are seeing the expropriation of our businesses. We all want to see women succeed, but what about the women who are investing in creating child care spaces in their communities? By wanting to provide affordable child care to the families we serve and opting into this program, we have had an expansion freeze placed on our private businesses, lost the ability to control the fees for our services, and ultimately lost the value of our investments.
The truth is that the promised child care spaces are not actually available to all families. In Alberta, what we're seeing is urban cities with wait-lists of 75 to 150 families on average and rural areas like Grande Prairie having wait-lists of 600 or more families. This legislation promises access to child care regardless of where families live, but that's not the reality. Parents are facing less access because the program has created a demand that can't be met, resulting in wait-lists.
When the guiding intent is to prioritize non-profit child care spaces, private expansion has been halted, yet demand for private programs continues to grow. Increased demand for child care has forced private programs to expand to meet need, despite having no access to grants for parents. This is resulting in parents paying upwards of $50 or more per day for the same program in the same centre. In Alberta, we are seeing a two-tiered system.
Do we really have affordable child care if we can't access it? The CWELCC program does not create equitable access to child care, especially for lower-income parents who were promised support to go back into the workforce. Parents and operators alike cannot understand how this CWELCC affordability grant funding is provided to every family, regardless of income bracket, when operators currently witness the majority of those on wait-lists fall into low-income brackets. Right now, families of varying income levels benefit, not necessarily prioritizing those who need affordability the most.
In closing, I urge the committee to take an approach to meet the Government of Canada's goals to make Canada child care more affordable to families.
I leave you with five solutions. They are to provide funding directly to families; change funding to an income-based model on a sliding scale so that true equitable need and accessibility can be met; focus legislation around the concept of parental choice, regardless of business model, and instead have the funding follow the child; open the full expansion of child care to private operators to meet the demand for child care; and respect and allow free market competition as a way to ensure quality and innovative niche programming that meets the needs of all parents.
We have a duty to Canadian families and children to make sure that we create a program that truly represents the needs of families, protects the quality of care for children and provides real accessibility to all families. We can't continue to ignore the issues that we're seeing across the country and move ahead with a well-intended but flawed program.
I'd like to share a few stories from operators this morning. I had one child care operator reach out to me....
I'm sorry. Am I out of time?
I have one child care operator in a rural, under-serviced area of Alberta who has proudly operated a high-quality day care centre for 17 years. She has invested in creating 194 child care spaces for her community. When asked how she felt when the CWELCC program was announced, she said that she was excited for families to finally have access to more affordable child care and optimistic that it would bring relief to families sitting on wait-lists.
Yesterday she sent a letter to all of her 194 families in her centre, plus 563 families on her wait-list, to notify them that she was closing her centre. After 17 years of successful operation, the viability of her business is gone. With high inflation, fee caps and expansion restrictions on private centres, her centre is financially handicapped. She has had to make the heartbreaking decision to close a business that she built, because she can't take the financial risk of signing a new lease or investing further into expanding her centre with the unknown of a cost control framework looming. She writes that she is worried that the $10-a-day goal will be at the cost of quality care for children.
These are the decisions facing operators on the ground right now, who are deciding to walk away from something they have proudly created because they can no longer carry the financial burden or because they simply can't agree with the reduced quality of care to bring the costs down.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
Right, I will speak a little slower.
Quebec has a rich history of 25 years of lessons, successes and challenges in connection with its child care services. In Quebec, there is virtually no further debate about the wisdom of offering low-cost child care. Nonetheless, the network faces other challenges that are well documented, such as the shortage of spaces, the quality of care, and problems recruiting and retaining staff. Since these problems have been well documented already, today I want to talk about three lessons from Quebec's experience in connection with its child care services network that are less well known.
The first lesson to note is that not all child care services are daycares.
In the Fall Economic Statement 2020, Chrystia Freeland said: "Just as Saskatchewan once showed Canada the way on health care..., Quebec can show us the way on child care." The deputy prime minister wanted to draw on the Quebec model for creating a national child care network. In its original form, the Quebec model is not a system in which most services are offered in daycares; rather, as Mr. Fortin said, services are offered in CPEs, early childhood centres. It is important to understand that "daycares" and "CPEs" are not synonyms, because they do not refer to the same type of child care.
By definition, a daycare is a private for-profit business. Daycares are therefore not central to the Quebec model. I would note, as a brief aside, that there are two types of daycares in Quebec: those that offer subsidized spaces at the same price as the spaces offered in the CPEs, and unsubsidized centres that offer spaces at the market rate, which is well above $10 per day. All CPEs, on the other hand, are created within the social economy and are not operated for profit. By definition, a CPE may therefore not be a daycare.
The difference between a CPE and a daycare is not just semantic, nor is it ideological. As Mr. Fortin said, daycares in Quebec offer lower quality services, as compared to CPEs, even though, overall, Quebec cannot boast that it offers high quality child care services to a majority of children. At the beginning of the 2000s, a study showed that only 27 per cent of child care facilities offered a level of quality ranging from good to excellent; that proportion rose to 35 per cent in CPEs but fell to 14 per cent in daycares.
The second lesson to note is that even when a majority of spaces are offered at low cost, less well-off families have lower access to high quality child care.
Here again, I will somewhat echo what Mr. Fortin has already said. In Quebec, we know that 36 per cent of children under the age of four do not have access to regulated child care, and yet we know very little about these children and the systemic, economic and cultural barriers that impede the families' access to child care.
Nonetheless, the 2020-2021 report of the Auditor General of Quebec to the National Assembly offers some information about the disparities in access to high quality child care for families in Montreal. For example, in the Park-Extension and Saint-Michel neighbourhoods and in the borough of Montreal North, which are extremely disadvantaged, a much higher number of spaces offered is available in daycares than in CPEs. In Westmount, on the other hand, a particularly wealthy Montreal neighbourhood, more spaces are available in CPEs. In simple terms, poor families have greater access to commercial daycares that offer lower quality services, while richer families have have better access to CPEs at present.
The third and final lesson to note is that the positive effect of child care on the economic activity of mothers in Quebec has to be considered in context.
Creating a child care services network was widely and rightly justified by reference to the importance of supporting women's participation in the labour market and the need to achieve equality between the sexes.
While the effect of child care services on mothers' participation in the labour market is undeniable—I am the mother of three children myself and I could not have pursued my doctoral studies and my career if I had not been able to rely on low-cost child care—it must be pointed out that Quebec has a coherent family policy that consists of more than offering low-cost child care.
Since 2006, Quebec has had its own parental benefits program, the Québec Parental Insurance Plan, which offers more accessible and more generous benefits than those offered everywhere else in Canada. The high rate of participation by mothers in the labour market is therefore a result of an institutional context that goes beyond the availability of child care, even though child care is essential.
I think there's a little bit of confusion about some of the language. My understanding is that home-based day cares, which in Alberta we call “day homes”, are being included under this agreement as a non-profit model. That's very confusing and misleading to me, because those are very much a for-profit model. They are women who usually stay at home. You're allowed to have a certain number of children in your home. You want to be licensed. I want 100% to support licensed, regulated, quality care.
That is separate from, let's say, what my centre offers. I am a private child care operator. I have a commercial space that I lease. I operate under the exact same regulations and standards as those of a non-profit business model. We follow all the same guidelines. The only thing different is our business model.
They are two separate things. I do believe that a home-based day home would be a for-profit business model as well. I find it very misleading to be included in a non-profit structure. As for-profit private child care centres, we are not able to expand and do not have access for our families in our care in the same way that a non-profit business model does under this agreement.
I wholeheartedly think that if you are supporting family accessibility to child care spaces and you want to help alleviate some of the wait-lists and the demand that we're seeing, then it should include all licensed child care providers.
It is very important to understand clearly that in our system here in Quebec, private daycares compete not on quality, but on price. To keep the price at $40 per day per child, a lot of things have to be left out, and, in general, it is the quality that declines. I don't see daycares offering to have parents pay $50 rather than $40 to get better quality services: the parents would say "whatever", and would choose another daycare that keeps its price at $40.
The problem with child care services is that they are not a tangible good, like frozen Brussels sprouts or like cars. The consequences associated with the quality of the services will be seen in children in a much longer term. As a result, it is difficult. It would be possible to keep the private daycares in the system, on the condition that the authorities impose strict quality criteria and monitor compliance with the criteria very closely.
I grew up in a family of 15, and I think child care in our household would have made a huge difference in the livelihood of our family. I'm quite pleased to see that we are moving forward in these important social support programs that strengthen families and give women an opportunity to go forward.
I'd like to explore the Quebec experience with Mr. Fortin a little further. Paragraph 7(1)(a) of the bill proposes the guiding principles for the federal investments to aim to “facilitate access to early learning and child care programs and services—in particular those that are provided by public and not for profit child care providers”, which continues on the discussion we're having now.
You mentioned earlier that one of your concerns is that there is a shortage of spaces. Do you feel that this is the correct approach and, in your opinion, will targeting the support primarily for public and not-for-profit providers provide enough child care spaces to meet the current and future demand?
I'm going to draw on Quebec's experience to answer.
We have had work-study programs recently set up by the government. You can go to CEGEP—college—and while you do your study to become an early child care worker, you are also paid to work. After each semester you can get scholarships. You can also be working and have some of your experience recognized.
In Quebec, we had a program in 2020 to recruit 10,000 préposés aux bénéficiaires. I'm sorry, I don't know the word in English. It was to recruit people working in long-term care facilities. The program has worked, although not quite 10,000 people remained in their job after the program. There was an initiative by the government to really push to have more people become interested in that profession.
These are some of the initiatives. There's work-study and then it's really about political will, I would say.