Thank you very much, Madam Chair and members of the committee, for inviting me to testify this afternoon.
Child Care Now, also known as the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, was founded in 1982 to act on behalf of organizations and individuals who want high-quality, affordable and inclusive early learning and child care to be available for all families and all children, regardless of where they live and regardless of their circumstances.
We commend the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for undertaking an examination of the impact of COVID-19 on women and for recognizing that such an examination would be incomplete without addressing the impact of COVID-19 on women's access to child care.
I appeared before your committee three years ago, when you were carrying out a study on the economic security of women. I and many other witnesses said then that women in Canada will not and cannot achieve economic security without full access to the paid labour force and properly paid work. This will not and cannot happen without a publicly funded and publicly managed child care system. It's taken a public health crisis to prove our argument yet again. Now, finally, the essential and multiple roles of child care are being recognized, including by our Prime Minister. COVID-19 also exposes the fragility of the provision of child care in Canada. However, what governments will do about it, if anything, remains to be seen.
Statistics Canada's labour force survey confirms the devastating impact of the pandemic on women's employment, and particularly on the employment of mothers with children under the age of 12. While the May jobs report shows some job recovery overall, women accounted for only 29% of that recovery. Getting women back into the paid labour force is critical to women's economic security, but increasing women's labour force participation is also crucial to a sustainable economic recovery for everyone. The construction of an accessible, affordable, quality and inclusive system of child care is essential if Canada is to forge a resilient and just future and also become the best possible place for children.
Child care in Canada was fragile before the pandemic hit, because it's market-based, it's fragmented, and it's seriously underfunded.
Parents in Canada are forced to purchase services from a child care market, some of which is regulated and much not, and some of which is not-for-profit and some a source of profit. It's a market that offers a confusing array of very scarce offerings, too many of which are of poor quality and almost all of which are unaffordable for most families. It contributes to and exacerbates economic and social inequity. Indigenous families, racialized families and low-income households are disproportionately shut out.
The child care market is also particularly bad at meeting the needs of children with disabilities, children whose parents work non-standard or irregular hours and children who live in rural and remote communities.
This market approach works no better for child care providers. Almost all programs outside of Quebec rely primarily on parent-fee revenue to stay in operation. The predominantly female workforce earns low wages. Any raise in compensation translates into higher parent fees. Inadequate compensation has made the recruitment and retention of qualified early childhood educators a perpetually serious concern.
Leaving the provision of care to the market doesn't work for child care any better than it would work for health care, primary education or secondary education, or countless other areas where governments have intervened for the benefit of all Canadians and because it makes economic sense to do so.
COVID-19 exposed all the problems with market-based child care and the absence of a fully publicly funded and publicly managed child care system. When provinces and territories ordered child care programs to close during the emergency response phase of the pandemic, with limited services for essential workers, the sector was disrupted in a way that it was not disrupted for public education or other parts of the public sector. The level of disruption depended on the approach taken by each province and territorial government.
In places where necessary support was provided, the child care programs are in a much better position to reopen and respond to the needs of children and parents, but a survey of licensed child care centres in Canada carried out in May found that more than one-third of the centres across Canada are uncertain about reopening.
It's now time for major government intervention in early learning and child care. Child Care Now has proposed a federal strategy for doing just that. Of course we recognize that the reconstruction of child care cannot be left to the federal government alone. It's going to require the federal government to work with the provinces, territories and indigenous governments and communities, but the federal government must provide policy leadership, supported by its spending power, to respond to the immediate economic and social fallout of COVID-19 and to set the foundation for longer-term system-building.
Our strategy calls for a two-phased approach. In the first phase, we want the federal government to spend $2.5 billion to support the safe and full recovery of regulated early learning and child care and to respond to the immediate care needs of school-age children. In the second phase, we propose that the federal government boost its child care spending to $2 billion in 2021-22 and that this base be increased each year thereafter by $2 billion.
These federal funds would be used to move Canada towards a fully publicly funded system in partnership with the provinces, territories and indigenous governments. Twenty per cent of this funding should be earmarked to support the indigenous early learning and child care framework. The federal government, under our plan, would require the provinces and territories to use the federal funds to achieve measurable improvement in accessibility, affordability, quality and inclusiveness. Additionally, the federal government would establish and fund a federal early learning and child care secretariat to lead and coordinate the federal government's work. Finally, the government would propose legislation that enshrines Canada's commitment to give all children the right to high-quality early learning and child care.
Let me elaborate very briefly on what we want to see in the first phase, which would start now and continue to the end of the current fiscal year.
The federal government has promised $14 billion in new federal transfers to the provinces and territories, to be rolled out over the remaining months of 2020. These transfers are to help finance the safe restart of the economy. What we propose is that the federal government allocate $2.5 billion of these promised transfers for spending on child care. Agreements with each province and territory would ensure that the federal government funds would be used for, one, a safe restart of child care programs; two, the restoration and expansion of the number of licensed child care spaces that existed prior to the pandemic; and three, the establishment and operation of child care programs for school-age children up to age 12 through the summer months and into the fall and winter. Parents need access to quality programs before and after school hours and/or during regular school hours if schooling is not available because of public health concerns.
Additionally, we want the federal funds to be used to improve the wages of those who work in early learning and child care to ensure the return and retention of qualified staff to the sector.
The federal secretariat that has been mandated by the Prime Minister of Canada would be established during this first phase. Its mandate would be to advise on, monitor and evaluate phase 1 implementation and to plan for phase 2, including the development of comprehensive workforce and expansion strategies.
Again, thanks for inviting me today. I invite you to read the full text of our strategy, which is posted on our website at timeforchildcare.ca.
Of course, I am happy to answer any questions you have.