Tasha Kheiriddin: Liberals’ ‘national childcare’ plan serves unions and business interests, not parents

Leaders from both business and government should champion the idea of parents as the primary caretakers of their children

The fall economic statement is out, and national childcare is in. The Liberals are proposing $420 million for early childhood educators, $20 million for a “childcare secretariat,” and a “more concrete plan” for coast-to-coast childcare in the 2021 budget. No price tag yet, but a Scotiabank study pegs such a system at $11.5 billion a year.

Calling it a “feminist agenda,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says this makes “sound business sense” and cites the backing of Canada’s corporate leaders. According to Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty, “The rate at which women are being forced to leave the workforce because of childcare gaps continues to undermine Canada’s economic recovery and requires emergency funding.”

Actually, many daycares are short of kids, because parents are at home instead of at work. In a recent speech to Status of Women Canada, researcher Andrea Mrozek of Cardus stated, “In Ontario, 93 per cent of daycares reopened in September, but in places such as Brampton only 20 per cent of childcare spaces were occupied … Alberta reported 94 per cent of daycares were operating with an enrolment rate of about 50 per cent.”

I am not suggesting that parents drop completely out of the labour market when their kids are small. As a working mother, I know the office presents a delightful escape from wiping up vomit and not showering for days. I am suggesting that we, as a society — employers, government, families — seek a better balance for parents of young children.

Employers should offer options. They include part-time work — not just the so-called “mommy track,” but rather, a parent track: job-sharing so that each parent can work half-time outside the home, as opposed to one full-time and one not at all. Offer work-from-home to create more hours in the day: the two to three hours saved on commuting and getting ready can be applied to their job, allowing for more time with family.

Government should reward such employers with tax incentives. It should increase maternity and paternity leave. It should assist parents, not centres. For single parents, or those whose jobs cannot be flexible, it could prioritize sharing caregivers between families or small, home-based (fully inspected) daycares.

Most importantly, leaders from both business and government should champion the idea of parents as the primary caretakers of their children. Instead of applying yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems, why not build back better — starting with our kids?

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Many daycares are short of kids, because parents are at home instead of at work

What is national childcare really about? Corporate Canada wants a greater supply of female workers. Politicians want votes and the support of interest groups, including unions. Just as public education is unionized, the logical next step is public, unionized daycare. A lot of memberships there, no doubt.

As a parent, I am not interested in what corporate leaders, politicians, or unions want. I am interested in what children want. If our littlest kids could talk, would they say “yes, Mommy and Daddy, I love the idea of spending my day with strangers and a dozen other children, trying to communicate my needs to adults who don’t know me and change jobs every few months. Also, getting sick every six weeks, and not seeing you for eight hours a day”?

I doubt it.

This is what Corporate Canada calls “short-termism” — and to an extreme degree. We are all learning through this pandemic the serious negative effects stress can cause. So why would business leaders advocate putting children — their future workforce — in stressful environments, all day long, at the youngest of ages, when their brains are only starting to be wired and their attachments are just forming?  With all the mental-health help companies throw at their current employees, might business leaders not think it wiser to equip future generations with more resiliency?

And can politicians not come up with something better than this stale concept? Why not start from a different premise: encouraging families to raise their children at home, as much as possible, rather than farming them out? Why not listen to parents who, in survey after survey, state repeatedly that their preferred option is not childcare centres, but care at home, or something that closely resembles it?

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