Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to rise on behalf of the residents of Kelowna—Lake Country.
Just as a reminder, I am splitting my time with the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek.
I will lay out some of the issues with the Liberal child care bill, Bill C-35, that will need to be addressed.
I thank those who work in the child care system and who look after our children.
To be clear, this is not a child care strategy. In my province of British Columbia, a 2019 survey found that the greater Vancouver area, represented by several cabinet ministers in the Liberal government, had only enough child care spaces for 18.6% of children in the metro region. That is bad enough in urban areas of our country, but in many rural regions of Canada large child care centres do not exist at all. This bill offers rural parents or those who need flexibility nothing. Again, it chooses to ignore the simple fact that low-cost child care is not possible if child care resources are not accessible to begin with.
However, the rural-urban divide is not the only issue with this legislation. There is a serious concern about the complete lack of focus on ensuring that child care spaces go to those most in need instead of creating advantages for the already well off. After all, affordable child care should be prioritized for those who otherwise cannot afford it.
There is no means test. Under the current Liberal proposal, someone who works on Bay Street with children already in day care will get access to $10-a-day child care the same as a lower-income family. People who do not need to work have the same access as a family who needs to work.
There is no flexibility for families who are not working the weekday office job hours and who currently have different types of child care options that work for their shift work or their schedules. That is because this legislation dogmatically preferences not-for-profit and government child care over operators working and running child care centres in the private sector. These are people, most often women, who work in their homes, who have small businesses and who often have young children.
When my son was a baby I found someone to come into my home part time. That was back when maternity leave was only six months, and it was hard to work with such a young baby. Having someone come in was expensive, and I was not making a lot at the time. However, it was the only option I had at the time as few child care centres took infants that young or would allow me flexibility with part-time needs and hours. Christina became like family.
Anyone who has this type of scenario would not be applicable in this legislation. When my son was a toddler he was in the home of a wonderful woman, Pauline, who had a group of kids. Because I needed flexibility in child care due to the type of contract work I was doing at the time, the larger, structured child care centres did not work for what I needed.
The scenario of in-home small business child care does not meet the priorities of the government's legislation. Instead of giving parents freedom to determine what child care works best for their children and their lives, the government has opened the door for a two-tiered framework of child care. Under the government's plan, only not-for-profit and government child care spaces have open access for parents to utilize the Liberals' program as the legislation states is the priority. That is not universal access and the legislation does not include strategies to address spaces or labour.
We know there are labour shortages. About a year ago, in Kelowna, it was announced by one centre that they had to say goodbye to about 24 children, because they could not find the staff to meet the government licensing requirements. That left families scrambling with little ability to find a new location with waiting lists being long.
A Vancouver operator of 300 spaces said, “In the past two years, we've had to close programs temporarily, whether it's for a day or two, or shorten hours for a week”. A report on child care recruitment published in January 2023 found that in British Columbia, 45% of child care centres are losing more staff than they can hire, and 27% of child care employers turned away children because of a lack of qualified staff.
To adequately staff the Liberals' proposed plan in British Columbia, they found that 12,000 new child care employees were required. Still, current recruitment and retention programs are failing with several thousand employees behind target.
When the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development put this bill forward, she said its purpose was to enshrine the Liberals' record on children and family into law. However, their record on this file is something that they are not strong champions of. Canada was once ranked 10th among the OECD for the well-being of children, but under the present government, Canada has fallen sharply to 30th place.
We will work on this side of the House to try to make this legislation better and more accessible to parents who want and deserve the freedom to decide what kind of child care works for their family. Looking beyond this, a future Conservative government will work hard on ways to increase child care workers and spaces and to ensure there are stable, good-paying jobs for families to keep more of the money they earn in their pockets.