By Mark Brown
PRIDE Guest Columnist
In 2013, two-year-old Eva Ravikovich’s lifeless body was discovered in an overcrowded Vaughan home daycare. “Guilty” was the verdict recently rendered by Justice of the Peace, Marie-Christine Smythe, in a Toronto area courtroom.
Justice Smythe ruled, that the night Eva died there were 19 children at the family-run home daycare and nine more at the home next door. The verdict shed light on a far-too-common reality with our childcare system in Canada.
Across the Nation, Canadians are struggling to balance work and family life, equivalent to no other time in history. For many Canadian households, the days of one income being sufficient to raise a family are far behind.
Too often the high cost of available child care services, forces families in Canada to choose between childcare that is affordable and care that is safe. With the exception of Quebec, access to affordable child care remains limited across the country.
For many families outside Quebec, childcare is the second highest cost on the household budget and the highest cost if they have more than one child. That cost can be considerably higher if the child has a disability.
As a result, many working families find themselves asking the question: is it worth both parents working if they are going to be hit with the high cost of childcare?
“When it comes to child benefits, fair doesn’t mean giving everyone the same thing, it means giving people what they need,” said Justin Trudeau, during a 2015 interview.
He was being questioned about the then Conservative government’s newly enhanced universal child care benefit. He went on to say, that higher income families, like his, did not need the universal child care benefit.
According to the Liberal Government’s website, part of the Liberal Party election platform included a promise to “…meet with provinces, territories, and Indigenous communities to begin work on a new National Early Learning and Child Care Framework, to deliver affordable, high-quality, flexible, and fully inclusive child care for Canadian families.”
In the most recent federal budget, it appears that the Prime minister is doing just that.
According to the budget, the federal government has set aside $500 million in the 2017 to 2018 fiscal year to support the creation of a National Early Learning and Child Care Framework, which is expected to be developed in consultation with the provinces, territories and indigenous communities, beginning this year.
So what are Canadians currently experiencing when it comes to finding affordable child care services?
In order to answer that question, let’s compare the experiences of two families – one in Ontario and the other in Quebec.
Isabelle Miller and Liam Joseph are married with two children and living in Montreal. Their children are Sienna, age 8, and Darius, age 5. Both Isabelle and Joseph work during the day. Both children are in the licenced Quebec childcare program.
Ms. Miller stated, that she is happy with the program. The children, (when they were in the day program) received breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack, all for $7.30 per day or $146.00 per month.
She went on to add, that an adjustment to the price is made when filing her income taxes however, the price is never more than $20.00 per day.
When asked what the impact on her household budget would be if the cost of childcare in Quebec was similar to the $1650.00 per month paid in Ontario, Ms. Miller said, “That cost would be unaffordable to most. It would change the quality of life for me and my family. One reason it is so appealing to live in Quebec is the social services like this, that are available to its citizens.”
She further noted, “In today’s world, you need two incomes to maintain the same middle class quality of life that one would have when I was a child. If the majority of the second income is spent on childcare costs, then how can working families attain that middle class status”?
Jen Hassum is a married 33-year-old mother living in Toronto. Both Jen and her husband work during the day. They have a two-and-a-half-year old son named Calvin.
Each day, Calvin is dropped off and picked up from a licensed day care. Jen said that she is very happy with the daycare. The price Jen pays for daycare is expected to drop as Calvin gets older, however, she presently pays $1650.00 per month for day care. That works out to $82.50 per day.
Jen stated that she felt lucky to get the spot as the City of Toronto charged $1800.00 per month.
Jen was asked for her comment on the cost of childcare in Quebec being $7.30 per day or $146.00 per month: “Wow! Right now we are renting because we cannot afford a mortgage and childcare. Childcare is the cost of a mortgage. If childcare was $8.30 like in Quebec, people could pay down their student loans and get houses.”
While Jen welcomes the tax credit, she stated, that they could have created a national childcare program like the one in Quebec.
The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has been one of the primary proponents of safe and affordable childcare in Canada.
“I believe it is important for childcare to be accessible, affordable and public in order to make the lives of parents better” says Marie Clarke Walker, Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).
Clarke Walker further stated, “Accessibility must include childcare for children with disabilities and childcare that also understands cultural importance. Childcare that takes into consideration the needs of our First Nations people and their culture. It should also ensure that the diversity of our country and our children is also considered.
“Affordable regulated childcare assists in ensuring that working parents don’t worry about leaving their children in care, and can be more productive at work because they don’t have to worry about their children’s wellbeing.”
In closing, Clarke Walker went on to state that, “Cultural sensitivity is more than just recognizing that our country is diverse. It is about the holidays that are observed, the variety of foods that is served and a complete understanding of the cultural norms of the families being serviced”.
The new Child Benefit system would provide families with children under age 6, an annual tax-free benefit of up to $6,400 per child, and families with children, between the ages of 6 and 17, would receive benefits of up to $5,400. In addition families, with annual net incomes below $30,000, could expect to receive the maximum benefit.
Anti-poverty groups applaud the new measure, while cautioning that they would oppose any attempt by the provinces to retract the payment from families on social assistance.
Both Labour and childcare advocacy groups are viewing the recent federal budget, on a whole, with cautious optimism.
The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) however, expressed disappointment on the omission of sustained funding for healthcare. The CLC further noted, on its website, that the many positive aspects of the budget could be compromised if the government ratifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
While the childcare element of the budget is not the $7.30 per day Quebec-styled child care, many childcare advocates tend to agree that making childcare more affordable in Canada is a step in the right direction.
Mark Brown is the Chair of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council’s Equity Committee, a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionist (CBTU) and a member of the Toronto Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000658149978