Many parents are abuzz with excitement over a recent announcement in Ottawa’s federal budget, earmarking $30 billion for five years to establish a universal child care (UCC) program.
In anticipation of the program rollout, advocates for the long-sought government program – including the Children First Centre here in Inuvik – are surveying parents, caregivers and other stakeholders to have ideas to put forward to the GNWT to be able to implement the program when Ottawa rolls out the dough. If all goes according to plan, soon basic child care will cost parents $10 a day from coast to coast to coast.
If this boundless optimism sounds familiar, that’s because it is. This is now the fourth time we’ve seen an attempt to implement such a program by Ottawa.
Originally, Brian Mulroney and his Progressive Conservative caucus put forward a plan in 1987. Jean Chretien and his Liberal government offered up a similar program in 1993. Then, 12 years later his successor Paul Martin proposed the same thing yet again.
Every time we publish a story about child care, we always sneak in that statistic about how every dollar spent on early child care saves seven or more dollars later in life. Many countries with UCC integrated it in the 1980s and have never looked back.
So why is it so difficult to implement a program that has nearly universal support? Simple. Politics.
The initial push for UCC under Mulroney was killed by the man himself when he called the 1988 general election, where a nationwide debate on whether Canada should join NAFTA or not quickly drowned out concerns for children. In spite of the fact the majority of Canadians voted for parties against the North American Free Trade Agreement, the pro-free trade PCs won a majority through the split vote and set us down that path.
Chretien campaigned on UCC during the 1993 election that saw the end of the PCs, but put as much work into the program post-election as he did his other big campaign promise of rescinding the GST – none.
Martin, Chretien’s rival and successor, also presented a plan for child care, already nearly 20 years after the idea first was considered a good one in Ottawa.
However, the sponsorship scandal skeletons in the Liberal closet was the only thing that mattered during that election cycle and his minority government was defeated in a confidence motion by the NDP under Jack Layton, which paved the way for Stephen Harper and the Conservative party to take over and leaving child care in the cold for another decade.
Assuming our current batch of leaders don’t pull the same stunt and force an election, by the time the law is passed and brought into being, it will have been close to 17 years since Martin’s last push for UCC. Twice that long ago for when the idea was first debated in Ottawa.
Any politician who forces an election is going to have to explain why their drive for power outweighs a program Canadians have been waiting on for nearly four decades.
So I implore anyone in this country with political ambitions – let Ottawa get this done. Parents, educators and children themselves have been waiting for this program longer than many Canadians have been alive.