Thirty years ago this month Pauline Marois became the first cabinet minister in Canadian history to give birth while in office. It would be almost 15 years later, in the fall of 1997, that the Parti Québécois minister would usher in a package of child-friendly programs including what would be revolutionary in Canada — a $7-a-day childcare program.
Pauline Marois is now the first female premier elected in Quebec. And according to a series on childcare running this week in The Globe and Mail, while her $7-a-day program is still suffering growing pains, children are thriving and it is politically bulletproof; like healthcare and public education, it’s a universal program, much loved and available to all regardless of income.
So what about B.C.? Well, in 2001 Christy Clark became the second woman in Canadian history to give birth while sitting as a cabinet minister. Like Marois, she too went on to become her province’s first elected female premier.
Unlike Marois, though, she has expressed no interest in pushing forward with a similar childcare plan, a plan being promoted by the Early Childhood Educators of B.C. in partnership with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. They want $10-a-day childcare.
Clark told the Globe two things in response. One: the province can’t afford the plan. (Quebec is sinking just over $2 billion a year into their program.) And two: “It’s hard to marshal wide-scale political support … because the parents who need childcare are mostly parents with children under 6, and once people’s children get into school, it’s easy for people to forget how difficult those years are.”
As far as affordability goes, Nobel laureate James Heckman is just one economist who has observed that while childcare is expensive, like education, it pays for itself down the road.
As for political support — and details of the plan — I would direct you to the Coalition of Child Care Advocates website. They claim support from 21 city councils across the province and two dozen school boards.
As for the premier’s assertion about how easy it is for people to “forget how difficult those years were,” put up your hand if you can’t remember the panic, the inconvenience and the significant cost related to your experiences.
How do you forget registering for daycare the moment the stick turns blue or being left on a waiting list for years while you juggled your schedule, then paying almost as much for childcare if not more that you are paying for housing?
Of course everyone is left to figure out their own childcare strategy and some are more fortunate than others. Clark, you may recall, was able to return to work as a cabinet minister aided by the fact she could use the office next to hers in the legislature as a nursery.
Child Care Coalition member Sharon Gregson reminded me that former NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh introduced a program based on the Quebec model during his brief administration. She says it was one of the first things Gordon Campbell killed when he became premier in 2001 and appointed Clark his minister of education.
And on the national scene, when Conservative Stephen Harper formed his first government in 2006, he took an axe to a national childcare program Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin was ready to introduce a year earlier.
While other provincial governments, like those in P.E.I. and Ontario, have provided significant grants for people to develop comprehensive early child care and education programs, Clark has done nothing of the sort.
In four provinces and two territories, early childcare and learning is being housed in the ministry of education. Here it is fractured among a number of ministries where funding is still viewed as a subsidy for the poor.
In Vancouver, every council in recent history regardless of political stripe has unanimously supported more childcare access and done what it can to get developers to create more spaces.
But without the province at the table with serious money and a plan like the one being put forward for $10-a-day daycare, the crisis parents face, the limits being placed on our kids’ potential and the economic disadvantages for families that result will continue.