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Bill C-35 is a chance for the feds to fully implement accessible childcare—if they do it right

Presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology consideration of Bill C-35

November 6, 2023

3-minute read

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has been a longstanding voice in favour of accessible childcare, and has developed a strong expertise in the realm. This year, CCPA Senior Economist David Macdonald released two major childcare reports—one measuring Canada’s progress towards universal $10 per day childcare, and another breaking down which communities in Canada are “childcare deserts,” based on available seats in daycares in neighborhoods across the country.

In late 2022, the federal government introduced Bill C-35—an Act to respecting early learning and child care in Canada. The purpose of the Act, according to the government’s press release announcing it, is to “enshrine the principles of a Canada-wide early learning and child care system into federal law.”

On Nov. 2, the Senate Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology invited Macdonald to present his opinion on Bill C-35. The following is a lightly edited transcription of his remarks, which you can also watch by clicking here. Macdonald speaks at 12:30.

I’d like to thank the committee for your invitation to speak today on Bill C-35.

Over the past decade I’ve had the opportunity to work with the child care community collecting critical data on child care in Canada’s big cities. Our fee survey, combined with our other research identifying child care deserts, provides key public and consistent approaches to evaluating both affordability and accessibility of child care in Canada. Little did we realize in 2014, when this endeavour started, that a sea change was coming in the nextdecade.

I’d like to draw your attention to my most recent study co-authored with Martha Friendly: “Measuring matters,” our 2023 survey of child care fees in 37 Canadian cities. I’ll note that this is the longest running and most detailed annual survey on child care fees in Canada. Without the data it collected in 2019, there would be no outside method for evaluating whether the provinces and territories hit the federal 50 per cent reduction goal by December 2022.

As part of the creation of the National Advisory Council on Early Learning and Child Care in Bill C-35, I encourage the government to task either this new council—or other organs of the federal government—with public and independent evaluation of federal goals embedded in the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care system (CWELCC). While the CCPA and child care advocates have played an important role in collecting and analyzing critical information on fees and space availability, we aren’t the right vehicle to continue it.

Given the size of investments in early learning and child care from the federal government—and its much better access to provincial data—it should be the one rigorously, independently and publicly evaluating provincial and territorial progress towards the goals it laid out, whether positive or negative. This is too important to leave to a research institute conducting child care research a shoestring budget.

In our most recent child care fee report, we evaluated the progress towards the December 2022 target of a 50 per cent reduction in fees—and it has been solid. Half of the big cities have seen a 50 per cent reduction in fees versus the reference year of 2019 or 2020. A further quarter have seen fee reductions in the 40 per cent range, while not hitting the federal target, they’ve still gotten fairly close. A final quarter of cities have made progress, but there, median fees have only fallen between 20 and 30 per cent.

The cities falling furthest behind were in Prince Edward Island, Alberta and British Columbia. Both PEI and Alberta counted changes in their low income subsidies towards their 50 per cent reduction. Other provinces also changed their low income subsidies, but didn’t count that towards their 50 per cent reduction.

BC was more of a mixed bag. Some cities, like Vancouver, got close largely due to rapid expansion of $10 a day spaces there. Other cities, like Surrey or Burnaby were further. The Fee Reduction Initiative increase was not quite enough to reduce fees by 50 per cent when being offset by non-participation and compositional changes, combined with little expansion of $10-a-day spaces.

One of the other interesting results this year was the variance we’re seeing in some cities. For instance, in Hamilton, most parents are paying within only a few dollars a day of the median. But in larger cities like Toronto or Richmond, parents are paying a wide variety of fees well above the median, even if those fees have fallen. Set fees, as we’re seeing in seven provinces and territories now, essentially eliminate these wide variances.

Different approaches to fee reductions are yielding different results—and this deserves further study from the federal government, as it has serious implications for the 2025 CWELCC target of $10 a day fees.

We’ve settled on four recommendations for next steps on the national child care plan:

  1. Rapidly move to set fees in the six jurisdictions that don’t yet have them to eliminate variance and then predictably ratchet those fees down to $10 a day by 2025-26.

  2. Publicly plan the location of new spaces to ensure they are located close to where children live instead of only in downtowns of big cities.

  3. Continue the focus on non-profit expansion given the widening fee gap between non-profit and private providers.

  4. As public funding replaces parent fees, we need to ensure that funding formulas prioritize workers wages.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to your questions.

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