Mr. Speaker, I congratulate you on your new job. You are wearing it very well.
Before I begin, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful people of Haldimand--Norfolk who have once again asked me to represent them in this place. My gratitude goes out to them and to all those who worked so hard to once again grant me this very great privilege.
It is an honour today to have this opportunity to speak to one of our government's top five priorities as outlined in the Speech from the Throne. I am referring of course to the government's strong commitment to the well-being of children and families, a commitment that we are proud to advance through our proposed new choice in child care plan.
The centrepiece of the plan, the choice in child care allowance, is a $1,200 a year benefit for all parents of preschoolers, regardless of the parents income or career choice, of where they live or how they wish to raise their children. Combined with the many federal supports already available to Canadian families, this universal allowance will give parents more choice in child care. Whether child care is provided at home, with neighbours or a family member, or in a day care setting in the community, or even in a work environment, parents need the freedom to choose what is best for their family.
As the Speech from the Throne said so well, the most important investment that the country can make is to help families raise their children.
The new allowance is part of a broader plan to allocate over $10 billion over the next five years to help Canadian families find the kind of child care that they want and demand.
Toward that end, our plan is also committed to creating up to 125,000 new community-based child care spaces over the same period. These are spaces that will be designed, created and delivered in the communities where parents live and work and raise their children. They will be designed not by government, which tells us what works best, but by parents who know what works best. These new child care spaces will be flexible and responsive to the needs of working families.
In the coming weeks and months, we will work with businesses, not-for-profit and community organizations, the provinces and the territories to build on their experience in order to help promote the creation of more child care spaces.
A recent a survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family asked parents to rank a series of possible child care options. The most interesting finding of this survey was that first choice of parents for raising their children was their spouse or partner. The second choice was a grandparent. The third choice was another relative. The fourth choice was home-based day care. The fifth choice was institutional day care. Finally, there was the option of babysitting by friends or a hired sitter.
The lesson learned from this survey is clear. Parents want choices and they want to make those choices themselves. Parents want choice and empowerment when it comes to deciding how they can best take care of their children.
No politician or party in the House can claim to have a monopoly on knowing the best child care arrangements for Canada's children. I believe that no one in this place, no matter from which party they come, can be accused of not wanting the best for our children.
These matters are not up for debate. What is up for debate is the path that we, the government, can and should take to help parents do what is best for their children.
A child care solution that only helps some children or some parents is not much of a solution. Canadians want a program that helps all children, whether they be in a major urban centre, on a family farm or in an aboriginal community, so they can reach their full potential.
We all know that the family is the foundation of Canadian society. Strong families make healthy communities. However, healthy communities are synonymous with social and economic success, which then determines the quality of life of all Canadians.
What can the government do to support strong families? There is no simple answer to that question, because each family is unique, and what produces good results in one family could have other effects in another.
As a government, we recognize this. Our responsibility is not to tell families how to raise their children. It is not to impose a one-size-fits-all solution. It is to respect and trust parents to make the right choices for their children. Our choice in child care plan is all about that, to give every Canadian family the freedom and opportunity to give their children a healthy start in life to the ultimate benefit of all society.
There are 2.1 million preschoolers in our country. Statistics Canada recently issued a report entitled “Child Care in Canada”. It found that only 15% of preschool age children are in formal day care. The biggest portion, well over half of all children under the age of six, are actually cared for at home by mom, dad, grandma, or another close relative or a neighbour.
The report clearly outlines the diversity of the child care choices that families make. There are countless other arrangements, including licensed in-home care, informal child care and preschool.
The option that parents choose depends on many things, including their personal beliefs about child rearing and the needs of their family as they balance their work and family responsibilities.
Some believe that a formal day care setting will expose their children to valuable early learning and socialization. Others believe that staying home with their children during those first years is the best choice for their family. Still others might prefer to have a parent stay at home with their children, but need two incomes to sustain their balance.
Parents often make choices that involve personal sacrifices. Some adjust their work schedules to make sure that there is always one of them at home with the children. Others try to make ends meet with only one salary so that one parent can stay home with the children.
Some parents cannot or do not want to send their children to a daycare centre. A centre's hours are often more suitable for those who work from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday.
Part timers, shift workers and people such as farmers and fishermen with largely seasonal work need different, more flexible forms of care. For the one-third of Canada's population living in rural and remote parts of the country, including my riding of Haldimand—Norfolk, often there are neither the staff nor the resources necessary to operate regular child care facilities of the sort that we might see in downtown Toronto or Montreal.
In short, many Canadians must have real choice in the child care options that meet their needs. Our government believes in supporting all parents in their child care choices. This is why we have come up with a choice in child care allowance. Starting in July, Canadian families, no matter where and how they live, will receive $1,200 per year for each child under the age of six.
This child care benefit is intended to give them more choices. They can now use this money to pay part of the daycare fees or to hire somebody to help the stay-at-home parent with the daily chores.
Alternatively parents may use the allowance to purchase learning materials such as books, crafts or a computer program, or this may allow parents to enroll their child or children in a course such as swimming, or music or a pre-school program. Some parents may wish to invest some or all their allowance into a registered education savings plan for their child. However, the fact is that this allowance is about helping families in a direct, real way.
I would like now to highlight a few things.
First, this allowance is more than families have ever received for this purpose. For all of its promises to help parents with their child care needs, the previous government's program offered nothing concrete for parents. Our new government will offer something tangible to all parents, regardless of their child care choice.
The government is not proposing some distant, perhaps unattainable promise. We are proposing a concrete means of helping all parents with their child care choices, and this support is something that will become a reality in a matter of just three months. This allowance will come on top of the $13 billion that the Government of Canada already invests every year in support for children and families, programs that include the Canada child tax benefit, the child disability benefit, the national child benefits supplement, the child care expense deduction, extended parental leave provisions and the Canada learning bond.
First and foremost, the child care benefit will be given directly to the families who will then be able to spend it as they wish, in accordance with their needs. Whether they work in a factory, spend long days working on the farm, operate a home-based business or stay home to care for their children, all parents of young children will benefit from it.
Why? Because we believe that the role of government is to empower parents to make decisions that will be in their children's best interests.
Another way the government can help is to ensure meaningful choices for parents who need child care spaces. That is why this new government will work with employers, communities and other governments to promote the creation of flexible and responsive new child care spaces tailored to the true needs of the community. And it is not just a handful of spaces. Our plan calls for $250 million a year for five years to create up to 125,000 more child care spaces. These spaces could be built by businesses, community groups or non-profit organizations, anyone who identifies a local need and sees the value in filling it.
Under our plan the new Government of Canada will be a partner in creating real child care spaces, working with businesses, community groups or non-profit organizations. For example, a group of employers, including businesses and non-profit employers, could cooperate to develop a child care centre in partnership with a community child care organization. In rural Canada, something which I know a little about, parents and community organizations in small towns could come together to create a multi-purpose child care centre offering child care, learning resources and a community centre on which parents could rely. A non-profit community organization such as a social planning council, the United Way or the YM-YWCA could partner with a number of non-profit employers to establish a new child care program. These are just a few of the possibilities that our plan will open up.
I trust the ingenuity of Canadian communities and Canadian parents to develop new and exciting ways to meet their child care needs, and we want to be a partner in that work.
How would the plan work? Through incentives. By 2011, our new government is committed to investing up to $1.25 billion in the creation of child care spaces alone. We will be talking to businesses, non-profit employers and communities, in addition to provinces and territories, to make sure that we get this initiative right. We know that our key to success is to ensure flexibility in design. Our goal is to meet the needs of all Canadian parents regardless of whether they live in a city or a rural community and whatever their hours of work, which may not fit the nine to five model.
This initiative will complement the roles of partners, such as provincial and territorial governments, by helping to create new child care spaces.
The child care choice program is being well received because it makes sense. It has been praised by parents across the country. They told us that they saw in this program precisely the type of flexible, attentive approach they needed.
The plan has also garnered the backing of many groups with an interest in child care, including Advocates for Childcare Choice, the Institute for Canadian Values, Kids First Parent Association of Canada and Prairie Advocates for Childcare Choices.
The premiers of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Alberta have all endorsed our plan. Significantly, the governments of Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick have already said that they will not recover the child care allowance from social assistance recipients, an important step in making this program work. I am hoping that other jurisdictions will follow their lead.
After 13 years of being told about Liberal grand designs for a national day care program, parents were left with nothing more than promises. On January 23, Canadians voted for a government so committed to child care that it made it one of its top five priorities. The fact is that our government is committing over $10 billion to assist parents with their child care needs, more than twice as much money as the previous Liberal program promised but did not deliver. This money will help parents, giving them real choices in child care, and support investments in the creation of child care spaces.
Our plan will benefit all Canadian families with children under six. The Speech from the Throne promised a choice in child care plans because it is the right thing for Canadian families. It is about treating all Canadian families the same, whether they live in downtown Toronto, rural Prince Edward Island or Inuvik.
Canadian parents are true experts in child care. They do not need to be told how to raise their children, especially not by the government.
As a government, our responsibility is to lend a helping hand to ensure that Canadian families have meaningful choices in child care and to support them in whatever child care choice suits them best. That is also our responsibility as a society. I call on my hon. colleagues to support the government in this most worthy initiative.