| 23 May 2024, Thursday |

Fate of national daycare in the hands of Canadian voters

When Canadians go to the polls on Sept. 20, they will be faced with a stark decision about how to address the childcare crisis, with the ruling Liberals vowing to push through with a subsidized daycare system and the Conservatives providing tax credits to parents.

The coronavirus epidemic exposed Canada’s need need for inexpensive, dependable childcare, as daycare and school closures led many parents, especially women, to cut back on work hours or abandon jobs to care for their children, lowering productivity.

According to a recent Statistics Canada study, more than 48% of Canadian parents have struggled to obtain affordable childcare, forcing 27% of them to postpone returning to work and 41% to adjust work hours.

According to an Angus Reid study, public support for a national daycare program is strong, with more than 70% of Canadians in favor. Women and left-leaning Canadians are the most supportive voting blocs for the center-left Liberals, who are in a tight battle with the Conservatives.

“What the pandemic did was it really highlighted the difficulties of balancing childcare with paid work,” said Morna Ballantyne, executive director of Child Care Now, a group that campaigns for publicly financed childcare. “Women were leaving the paid workforce in droves.”

Mothers of young children saw a huge jump in unemployment during the pandemic, and continue to lag their male counterparts in recovering those losses. The labor participation rates for women with children are also far lower than for male parents. Getting those women working is key to Canada’s economic growth, economists say.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals say their C$30 billion ($23.8 billion) plan to vastly lower daycare fees by ensuring an average cost of C$10-a-day and creating 250,000 new childcare spots over five years will help do that. The Liberal plan is being implemented in seven of the 10 provinces and one of the three Canadian territories.

The Conservatives, out of power since losing a 2015 election, have said that if they win this month’s vote, they will cancel those deals and instead offer payments of up to C$6,000 a year, based on income, to help parents pay for their daycare of choice.

The two main parties’ divergent approaches could make childcare a deciding factor in key electoral ridings, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto, where center-based daycare spots are notoriously hard to find and childcare can cost families thousands of dollars each month.

Kerry Liu, a Toronto-area father whose youngest child will be starting kindergarten this year, said daycare was a huge expense for his family and the Liberals’ plan is definitely a key consideration for him in the election.

“For two kids it’s almost C$3,000 (a month). So I believe C$10-a-day will benefit a lot of parents,” he said. “That’s going to be a big game-changer.”

The median cost for toddler care for one child in Toronto is C$1,578 a month. That drops to C$210 a month under the Liberal plan compared with C$1,178 a month for a middle-income family under the Conservative plan, according to Reuters’ calculations.

“We’re going to help all parents, all parents, immediately” whether they use public daycare or not, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said when he launched his election platform last month.


Business groups, which typically are concerned about excessive government spending, prefer the tax-credit approach because subsidized care is more costly.

But Trudeau’s national daycare strategy is “popular across the board” with voters, said Nik Nanos, head of Nanos Research, and could be a wedge issue in tight races, particularly in urban centers where both parents typically work.

“If you’re in downtown Toronto or downtown Vancouver, you want to run against the Conservatives on vaccinations and childcare,” Nanos said, referring to the two main parties’ divergence over mandated COVID-19 vaccinations.

Trudeau, who hopes high COVID-19 vaccination rates and a strong economic rebound will help him win a majority government on Sept. 20, has mandated the shots for federal workers and all his candidates. O’Toole opposes the mandates.

But the chaotic situation last month in Afghanistan, where Canada struggled to evacuate its citizens, has left Trudeau’s Liberals sagging in the polls and well below the 170 seats needed for a majority in the House of Commons. Canada’s economy also performed worse than expected in the second quarter.

The Liberals, who currently rely on the support of opposition parties to pass legislation, are favored by 31% of voters versus 34% for the Conservatives, according to a new Nanos Research poll. The left-leaning New Democrats, who also support national daycare, are at 20%.

Many childcare advocates back the Liberal plan. They say Canada needs more daycare spots, lower fees for parents and more job security for childcare workers.

“A tax credit to parents … is not going to address any of those issues,” said Kerry McCuaig, a fellow in early childhood policy at the University of Toronto’s Atkinson Centre.

  • Reuters