The Canada that we live in should be doing more for its children

Saskatchewan’s children are the best loved in Canada and that was little surprise given the strong message from the Royal Society of Canada this week.

Canada’s children are the best loved in Canada and that was little surprise given the strong message from the Royal Society of Canada this week.

Ottawa and Ontario could learn a thing or two from Saskatchewan, which spent $300 million to set up a separate Children’s Plan in 2009. Now it is poised to spend $600 million over three years to expand programming for children in a move to “elevate children from a nursery class into an excited first-grade class”. That story could have been written from Durham, East Durham or Smithton and all the costs to get the two towns up to standard would have been paid for in one line on the cheque.

To be fair, they have other priorities than governing over the fate of children, but the impasse between governments in Ontario and Ottawa is deeply worrying. We want Ottawa to invest wisely and Ontario needs to change the way it funds child care. The province relies on family daycare and small play groups, while the federal government funds what it calls Head Start and early learning and care for children under five. This is a conflict of priorities but it is harming children.

READ MORE: Toronto PMP hospital set to join provincial and federal governments on child care

In June, the College of Public Health sent a letter to the Ontario and federal governments outlining a plan to protect children from both the long-term effects of intergenerational poverty, and to prevent them from having the brain damage common in those born in poverty. In a further attempt to quell fears and foster empathy, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised to bring in “more and better child care spaces in every part of the province” and the same week the Liberal government in Ottawa promised billions to expand early learning and care.

Ottawa’s biggest responsibility as an official partner in child care is providing affordable and accessible spaces, improving and protecting worker safety, and offering excellent teacher training. That has not happened. They need to invest in early learning, care and education, not lap it up like a hungry dog.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a new report in March that highlights that, across the country, preschool age children need:

• Paid, predictable, and stable daycare hours (87 per cent in Canada say they prefer paid flexible hours, but more than half (54 per cent) choose guaranteed, year-round hours)

• Access to affordable child care space with the means to meet the needs of working parents

• Access to child care that inspires confidence in caregivers

• Language, as a means of supporting language learning and language security

• The removal of highly discriminatory barriers in access to child care, such as parent hours and location

Ontario is making decisions about child care that will affect the lives of children for the next decade or more and the Liberal government, we argue, should not be punished for such an extraordinary timeline. Child care is a crisis, which needs to be dealt with quickly, but let’s do it right. Not through further debate and consultation. Rather, let’s make a decision about how to make child care truly universal, affordable and responsive to families, and then get on with it.

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