Thank you, Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear here today.
I'm pleased to be here representing the Canadian Child Care Federation, Canada's largest early learning and child care organization. We are comprised of over 20 provincial and territorial organizations and over 11,000 members working in child care centres and family child care settings across Canada.
As I prepared for this hearing, I read the background documents provided for the consultation. It's obvious that ensuring prosperity and productivity of individual citizens and businesses is the key concern of the current federal government.
We've seen that the tax policy can benefit both businesses and individuals, as in the case of tax credits for early childhood and care services. However, while tax credits are welcome, they don't replace sound federal policy and investment in programs and services.
The finance committee's background documents also address Canada's competitiveness with other countries. It's also important to look at our competitiveness in terms of investment in early learning and childhood education and care. In the recent Starting Strong II report of the OECD, Canada rates the lowest of the 14 countries in early childhood education investment. This gives our potential competitors a significant edge in both current and future workforce productivity.
Every day in my job as an executive director of an early learning and child care centre in Winnipeg, I see the difference that high-quality child care can make for young children and their working families. But I'd like to discuss with you today how high-quality early learning and child care can also make a difference in Canada's productivity today and in the long term.
Let's look at the research. We know that having access to quality child care is a key factor in encouraging women to return to the workforce. It also alleviates work-life conflict for families when parents know their children are in quality care and they can contribute more effectively to their jobs. We also know that quality early learning and child care supports the development of Canada's future workforce. Children's experiences in the first six years of life set the stage for the extent to which they will succeed in school and successfully integrate into the labour force.
Quality child care is, in fact, an integral part of the infrastructure that allows Canadians to work. It is as important as highways and transit systems; you can't get to work without them. Yet across the country, Canadians face barriers to accessing quality early learning and child care services. These barriers are caused primarily by a lack of infrastructure support to the industry and serious recruitment and retention problems in the sector, due to a lack of training standards, poor wages, and working conditions. These are national issues that will take national leadership to resolve.
So how does the federal government play a leadership role in an area that is clearly a provincial and territorial responsibility? Fortunately, the federal government already has some answers.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a ministerial advisory committee on child care spaces initiative. They made some recommendations that I urge the government to consider.
First, increase awareness and understanding of child care needs. It's amazing how much we don't know about child care in this country. A public education strategy could inform employers on how they can support child care for their employees. It could also inform parents on how they can access existing child care tax deductions and how to find quality care for their children.
A comprehensive research strategy could give us information about families' needs, priorities, and preferences. Unfortunately, much of the public dialogue around child care is based on anecdotal information and preconceived ideas. Solid data would help the federal government shape future child care policies.
The second recommendation is to develop a national framework for federal child care. Despite regional differences, there are fundamental similarities and common issues that need to be addressed on a national level.
All families in Canada should be able to expect a standard level of child care, regardless of where they live, in the same way that all Canadians expect a standard level of health care and education. “No strings attached” funding isn't good enough. Taxpayers deserve clear accountability from the provinces and territories that federal child care funds are indeed being used to provide more and improved quality care for families in Canada.
Number three is to introduce and encourage initiatives to deal with the child care sector's human resources challenges. The federal government could develop a concerted national strategy in collaboration with various stakeholders to address these challenges in order to ensure that we have enough skilled child care workers to meet the growing demand.
Number four, create a mechanism to support ongoing federal-provincial-territorial collaboration. This mechanism could provide leadership to resolve the many shared child care issues, such as the human resource challenges, creating spaces that meet the flexible needs of families, and encouraging family-friendly policies in the workplace.
The fifth recommendation deals with the bigger picture of family policy. Debate around child care initiatives in recent years shows that it is an issue that inspires passion. Canadians care deeply about their families, whatever their employment situation.
The federal government could lead a national discussion to develop a broad vision of family policy in Canada, with quality child care as a cornerstone, along with extended maternity and paternal leave and employer incentives to adopt family-friendly policies.
Finally, we would ask that the federal government continue to invest and work in partnership with the voluntary sector organizations concerned with healthy child development. Most community non-profit organizations serving children and their families depend to some degree on federal grants and contributions. Many of these organizations currently face grave financial instability.
We urge the federal government to act on the recommendations made by the independent blue ribbon panel to advise on grants and contributions programs. It's important that the partnership between government and community organizations be strong so that together they can better meet the needs of children and the families they serve.