Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for the invitation to be here with you this afternoon. I'll try to get through this before the bell rings.
There is no longer any dispute that parents in Canada with young children are in desperate need of greater government support. High-quality child care is limited and financially out of reach for the great majority of families. Consequently parents, and particularly mothers, are forced to find alternatives. They withdraw from the paid workforce, lessen their attachment to it, or delay entry, or they turn to more affordable, lower-quality, makeshift child care arrangements. The damage to children's well-being, to women's economic equality, to family security, and to the Canadian economy is severe and well documented.
The Liberal Party of Canada's election platform promised economic security for the middle class and help for modern Canadian families. As part of this commitment, Canadians were told that the Liberal Government would ensure the availability of “affordable”, “high-quality”, and “fully inclusive” child care for all families who need it.
Neither the first or second Liberal government budget delivers on that promise. The 2016 budget gave only one year of funding for early learning and child care in 2017. The 2017 budget allocates funding in each subsequent year until 2028, and yet the sum of money to be transferred to the provinces and territories each year falls far, far short of what is required to build a fully comprehensive child care system over the next 10 years. The funding starts in 2017 at only $500 million. By 2022 it will have increased by only $50 million. That amount has to be divided up between 10 provinces and three territories. To put this in perspective, the Province of Quebec alone already spends $2.5 billion a year on its child care program.
Further, following the tabling of the budget, both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development publicly stated that the government's intention is not to help all families access affordable child care but rather to target the support to those with low and modest incomes. In other words, they are abandoning the middle class when it comes to child care. They are acting in direct opposition to the contemporary international consensus and the overwhelming research that affirms that a universal approach is more effective than a targeted one. Only a universal and comprehensive approach can generate the well-documented economic benefits of early childhood education and care, help all Canadian families and give them the choices of child care that they seek, and sustain ongoing public support.
More importantly, the research tells us that universal early childhood education and care is the best way to meet the developmental goals we wish for all children, regardless of their family's social or economic status. The direction that the government is taking on child care is not just insufficient. It also it runs contrary to evidence and actually sets us back.
This is also true of the related changes to the maternity and parental EI benefits set out in Bill C-44. During the public consultation process on these changes, the most common reason given by those who supported the government's proposal to extend the leave period to 18 months was the lack of available affordable child care for children under 18 months. However, reducing parents' EI parental benefits so that they can stay on leave longer is a bad substitute for affordable quality child care for all. What would really help working parents before and after the birth or adoption of children, in addition to affordable child care, would be easier access to maternity and parental benefits and higher benefits. As it is, too many parents don't qualify or can't afford to forfeit their regular paycheques. Changing the EI program in line with the already tested Quebec parental insurance program, the QPIP, would be a much more positive step forward.
I have provided to the clerk of your committee our organization's very short brief on the proposed changes and why we think they are wrong. I hope you will give it consideration as you debate division 11, part 4, of Bill C-44 .
Thanks for your consideration.