Child care will be a main item on the menu when Parliament resumes on Sept. 23. It has simmered on the back burner for years but is now bubbling at full boil as Canada focuses on economic recovery. Some advocates have seized the moment to promote a pricey national universal child-care system while the federal spending taps are still wide open. But there are better ways to serve families. The federal government should start by committing to three key principles: a focus on child well-being, a recognition of families’ diverse care needs and fair access to funding.
Prioritizing the well-being of children is the place to start. Who could object? Though “child-centred” does sound like a cliché, the fact is that economics, not the welfare of children, is the driving force behind the recent push for child care. The provinces are under great pressure to ensure the child-care and education sectors are back at full capacity this fall so employed parents can return to work. Mothers’ labour force participation is the priority, amid reports women were disproportionately affected by the economic shutdown. Of course, economics has been the primary motivator for federal child-care funding for some time now. The idea has been to create incentives for more women to enter paid labour for more hours and thus boost gross domestic product — whether or not their doing so also boosts national well-being.
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