moved that Bill C-35, An Act respecting early learning and child care in Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me tremendous pleasure, and it is an honour to rise in the House today to kick off the debate on Bill C-35, an act respecting early learning and child care in Canada.
I want to start with a few thanks. I first of all want to thank the thousands of advocates across this country who have been waiting and fighting for this day for just over 52 years. It was 52 years ago in December that the Royal Commission on the Status of Women came out with its landmark report that asked the Government of Canada and suggested that it put in place an affordable, high-quality, inclusive and accessible child care system across this country.
Fifty-two years is a long time to wait, and there are lots of families who went through child care during that period of time. However, what I have heard from stakeholders and advocates across this country is that now is a good time to start. It is never too late to do the right thing, and here we are.
Today, we have agreements signed with 13 provinces and territories. As of December, almost all of them have reduced fees by 50%, and we have one more that is going to be making a good announcement very soon. More of those fee reductions are on their way.
What excites me about this system and about this bill is the impact it is having on families. I have had occasion to to travel to almost every province and territory across the country over the past year, to engage with families and to hear from them the stories about how this system is making a difference in their lives. I have yet to speak to a child care centre representative or a family who has not talked about the very real and tangible impact that this reduction in fees is having on their families' bottom line.
I will start by talking about one of the things that we have been doing as a federal government for a while, and that is the RESP, the registered education savings plan. For decades, we have been encouraging families to save for post-secondary education. We understand that this is a huge expense, but that it is important for all of our children across this country, for the future of our country, to make sure that they have the opportunity to attend post-secondary education.
Child care fees can range between $12,000 and $24,000 or even more per year. Multiply that by three or four or five, depending on the province they are in, and it could be two or three times the cost that the average student would spend on post-secondary education, yet we did not have any mechanism, until recently, to support families for this major expense.
It is an expense that starts right at the beginning of their family's journey, often when they have recently purchased a home or when they are just getting started in their careers. We are talking about tens of thousands of dollars. That is a huge impact and, not always but often, it results in the lower-income parent deciding to take a step outside of the workforce, because it just does not make financial sense for them to carry on.
The stories I have heard over the past year are changing that. I have been to every province and almost every territory. I meet parents. It is often a mom, I have not heard from a dad yet, but I am looking forward to that as well. However, I hear from so many moms who talk about the fact that it is because of these lower child care fees that they are returning to work.
There was the mom in Ottawa a couple of months ago who said that because of the 50% fee reduction she enrolled her daughter in day care, and she is returning to work full time as a real estate agent. She spoke of the impact that it had not only for her family's finances but also for her career development.
In Richmond, B.C. in December, in talking to a mom of three, she said that it is because of these reductions that she is able to go from part-time to full-time work, because she can now afford to have two of her children in full-time day care, with one of her children in school.
In Nova Scotia, a mom whom I was talking to said that because of these fee reductions, she is not only returning to full-time work, but she breathes a sigh of relief when she goes to the grocery store. She is not as worried about making sure that she can afford to buy healthy, nutritious food for her family because of the significant fee reductions.
Most recently I was talking to a mom in my community of Burlington, Ontario. She explained that when she and her husband saw the 50% reduction in child care fees, they decided they would not have to give up their house. Financially it made sense to keep her child enrolled in day care. They would be able to afford their mortgage and both of them could keep working.
This initiative is having a real tangible impact on families across the country, and I could not be prouder to be part of a government that is delivering this important policy.
That brings me to today and the introduction of this legislation at second reading. I hope all members in the House are going to support it and get it through committee quickly, so we can cement this important legacy for Canadian families, children and women right across the country.
Let me talk a bit about what Bill C-35 would accomplish. It would provide support for the continued implementation of an affordable Canada-wide system by enshrining the vision, guiding principles and a commitment to long-term funding. It would enhance transparency and accountability by requiring the minister responsible to report annually to the public on progress being made on the system. It would establish in law the national advisory council, which, by the way, is having its first official meeting today in Ottawa. This legislation would also build on the early successes of the Canada-wide agreements.
We are enshrining into law the federal government's commitment to strengthening and protecting this Canada-wide system.
We are enshrining into law the federal government's commitment to strengthening and protecting these Canada-wide systems while respecting provincial and territorial jurisdiction.
Bill C-35 would build on the collaborative work we have undertaken with PTs and with indigenous peoples from coast to coast to coast, and it is driven by a shared interest, and close partnerships and collaboration. It respects provincial and territorial jurisdiction and the co-developed indigenous early learning and child care framework that was jointly released and endorsed in 2018 with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council.
By enshrining these principles and vision into federal law, we are building stability into the child care system, and not just stability but also predictability and commitment.
We want provinces, territories and indigenous peoples to know that the federal government is in there for the long term. Importantly, we want parents, families, child care providers and early childhood educators to know that the federal government is also there for the long term. That is so important with Bill C-35, because we have seen in the past, unfortunately, when in 2006 then-prime minister Stephen Harper ripped up the child care agreements with the provinces and territories. It was one of the first acts the Conservatives did when they came into government. We need to ensure we are doing everything we can to make it harder for any future government, like a future Conservative government, to take that away from families, to take that away from our children and to take that away from the Canadian economy.
Let me talk a bit about the Canadian economy, because child care is one of those amazing policies that is not just good, smart, feminist, social policy, but it is good, smart, feminist economic policy. For every one dollar invested in child care, the economy sees a broader return of $1.50 to $1.80.
It is estimated that the Canada-wide system could raise real GDP in our country by as much as 1.2% over the next two decades. An OECD report shows that improvement in gender equality and family friendly policies has boosted growth in per-capita GDP by between 10% and 20%.
In Sweden, for example, when it brought in universal affordable child care, female employment rates increased by almost 30%. The IMF estimated that closing the participation gap between Canadian men and women in the workforce could raise Canada's GDP levels by 4% in the medium term. That is $92 billion.
Gender equality, ensuring women have access to economic opportunities, ensuring our children get the best possible start in life, is not just good for us as a society; that is excellent for our economy.
Let us talk a bit about what that means in real terms. We talk about the macro picture, but when we look at what that means, we have an example in Canada.
Quebec is celebrating 25 years of universal day care. Quebec went from having the lowest female workforce participation in the country in 1998 to now having the highest. In fact, some of the highest rates of women with children under the age of four are working in the entire OECD. If Canadian women join the workforce at the same rates that Quebec women have over the last 25 years, that is an additional 240,000 workers entering our workforce today. That is an impressive number. Those are workers in Canada, people who want to be part of the workforce, but for economic reasons have not been able to justify it or make it work.
As I said, I have talked to moms all across the country for whom this is making the difference. This is really exciting. As to where this is going to set us up as Canada in our future, for our economy and, most important, for Canadians, the potential is unmatched.
I want to spend a bit of time talking about the workforce. We know there is no child care system in Canada without the talented, qualified, well-trained, caring early learning and child care workforce. I want to give a big thanks to each and every one of them. During the pandemic, they went to work so that Canada could keep working. We saw what happened when child care centres were closed. It meant parents were staying home with their children.
It is pretty hard. I do not know about other members, but I was home during the pandemic for the first six months and my two and a half year old was home with me. It is pretty tricky to get work done when parents have a two year old or a two and a half year old with them. Anyone who is a parent or has been a parent of a young child can attest to that.
Those child care workers went to work during the pandemic. They went when we needed them most. We need to recognize that, we need to say thanks and we need to ensure that we have the system in place to support them with good wages and that they have an environment in which they can thrive, grow and develop their careers as well.
When we talk about child care, we talk about the economic impact and the social impact, but we also need to talk about the impact that it has on our children. Being in a safe, secure place is important, one where they feel loved, where they feel cared for, where they are well taken care of, but also where learning is part and parcel of the framework.
The Minister of Finance likes to talk about setting up a generation of super kids in the country, and I could not agree with her more. As a mom who is so grateful to the child care workers who made it possible for me to do my job while my son was little, the absolute illumination that he had when he went to day care and the explosion in learning that I saw from him is one of those things for which I will be eternally grateful.
When we talk about child care, there are so many spinoffs that are important for our society and our economy. I like to describe it as a home run, because it is good for our children, it is good for our families and it is good for the economy.
Bill C-35 is going to help us cement the role of the federal government. It is going to ensure that we are there in the long run for Canadian women, families, children and Canadians in general. It is going to ensure we are setting the country up for the 21st century to take hold of those opportunities and ensure that every child in our country has the best possible start in life.
I hope that my colleagues from all parties in this place will support Bill C-35 and move it forward so we can provide that commitment and assurance to Canadians and their families that the federal government is there in the long term, that we support our children and women, that we are setting Canada up for success.