Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and participate in this debate on child care in Canada. I want to note that I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Edmonton—Leduc this afternoon.
I have a keen interest in this subject for a variety of reasons. First, I am a member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. As such, our committee has talked about the proposed national day care strategy. When legislation comes forward, we will no doubt be reviewing that. Therefore, I have a professional parliamentary interest in it.
Second, in a previous life, when I worked at Queen's Park for the provincial government, I served as the Ontario premier's special adviser for children's education. That was at the time when Dr. Fraser Mustard delivered his report on early years learning in Ontario. This is a seminal work and speaks to many of the issues before us today.
Third, I have some personal experience as a teacher. I am a certified ESL teacher. One time in my past I taught English to young children, preschoolers and kindergarten children in South Korea, so I have had some experience.
Last, but not least, I am the father of two children under 30 months of age, so I have a personal interest. I deal with early years learning every morning at my breakfast table and every night before they go to bed.
As a result of all these, last fall I decided to create an early years round table in my riding. I wanted to talk to people active in early years learning and day care. I do not profess to be an expert in the field, but I wanted to bring together a group of people with a variety of perspectives who could inform me on what was going on in the riding, what were some of the challenges they saw going forward and what they were looking for in public policy in this area.
My riding is in central Ontario, Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock. It is rural. It is a scattering of small villages and people living between those villages. One thing we have learned over the years is that often programs devised by experts or civil servants living in downtown Ottawa or downtown Toronto often do not work well in a rural community.
Through my discussions with my early years round table and with other groups in my riding, I have identified several concerns going forward in terms of what the government doing. I raise these in a general context because at this point none of us actually knows what the government is proposing. There has been much talk. It has been stressed many times today that the Liberal government's commitment to do something about early years learning and about day care goes back 10 years. On the one hand we are all taking the, we will believe it when we see it approach. Beyond that, the minister has talked in generalities about the program, but we really do not know what is in it yet.
My comments are not specific criticisms or our concerns about the government's program, given that we have not seen it. Rather they are more general comments which I have heard, and they fall under three different categories.
The first group of comments have come from working families in my riding. One concern is that many people work irregular hours. They work shift work. If they are in retail, they may work evenings and weekends. They want to ensure that whatever government does to help them with child care or to help them pay for the cost of child care, that it will be sufficiently flexible for someone who works a 4 to 11 shift or who works on Sunday will have access to a program.
This is particularly true in a rural community where we do not have the critical mass in many of these small villages to create a government owned and operated system. At present, many people scramble to find child care for their kids and pay for it. There is a concern that the minister and the government, in conjunction with our Ontario Liberal government and the Ontario Liberal minister, would like to move toward a national system, or what I would call kind of a monolithic publicly owned and operated system that looks a lot like schools.
Ontario has had grade one for a long time. We have had kindergarten for many years. More recent, junior kindergarten was introduced in Ontario. I guess the concern is we went from SK to JK. Now we will have JJK and JJJK. Basically, we are extending the elementary school system down.
For anyone who works shift work or weekends, the notion that the schoolhouse will not now accept two year olds and three year olds does nothing to solve their problem, if they do not happen to have a 9:00 to 3:00 job, Monday to Friday, with holidays off.
That is a real concern in Ontario. Recent moves by the Ontario minister to introduce day care in schools on the opposite half day of when children are in half day kindergarten suggests that this is where the government will go. That will do nothing for working families in a rural riding such as mine who have to put their kids in care during irregular hours.
The second group of concerns has to do with families who choose to have one parent stay at home with their children. For most families, this is a financial sacrifice. It is a decision that people make because they feel it is important that one of the two parents stays home with the child during those early and formative years.
The concern is this. If government moves forward with some public system, similar to the public school system we all pay for through our taxes, but it is optional whether we participate, those parents who choose to stay at home will effectively be discriminated against, in the sense that they will pay through their taxes for the public system. However, if they choose not to participate, they will also have to pay for the care of the children themselves.
I asked the minister a question this morning. We had the authors of the recent OECD report on early years before our committee a couple of weeks ago. There was much discussion around test results of children who come out of different kinds of programs. One of the authors who participated via video conference from Paris noted that children who stayed at home with the parents did very well in the scores.
I reject the notion that children who are looked after at home by their parents or by relatives will inevitably perform more poorly in tests and will perform more poorly when they ultimately move on to elementary education.
The third point I want to raise has also been brought up many times today. It has to do with cost. The quick math is that the Minister of Social Development frequently refers to the Quebec model, which costs somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion. I am not saying the minister is saying this, but if we put in a similar system is across the country, it would cost about $10 billion a year. The federal government has made a commitment of $5 billion over five years. That is $1 billion a year, which is approximately 10% of the final cost of what this program would cost at full build out.
The minister has said many times, including last Friday when he was interviewed in Vancouver, that this is the first step, that basically the government is opening the door. A billion dollars is a significant amount, but he recognizes it is not nearly enough to pay for what he hopes ultimately blooms from his idea. I agree with him. It is not nearly enough. My question is from where will the other $9 billion come?
Both provincial and municipal officials have had lots of experience with federal governments that announce some grand strategy and program, get everyone excited, get everyone's expectations up, then the federal government puts a small amount of money on the table and the provinces and municipalities are left picking up the balance.
In this case, given that it is only a five year commitment, there is even concern that if the federal government steps back five years from now, the provinces and the municipalities will be left carrying the entire bag.
Any sort of a universal national day care system, even if it is one implemented by the provinces, will ultimately cost many billions of dollars. I suspect it will cost $10 billion or more. The question is, and provincial and municipal governments have the right to ask the question, who will come up with the rest of that money? If it is the provinces, then they will want to have a say at the front end.
The motion we have brought forward today is eminently sensible. The government has made a commitment to reduce taxes to low and middle income families. That is a step in the right direction. If dollars flow through parents, it gives parents the choice to provide or to find the kind of child care and early learning opportunities which work for them in their circumstances.
I agree with many of my colleagues who have pointed out that this is federal incursion into provincial jurisdiction. It seems to me that the federal government has enough of its own problems right now. It also has its own responsibilities which is not doing a very good job of looking after, such as our national armed forces. Why is it wandering into areas of provincial jurisdiction?
I would encourage all my colleagues on all sides of the House to support the amendment. Let us move forward with the program that will ultimately empower parents and put them in a position where they can make the choices that are best for their families.