Madam Speaker, speaking to parents of young children, this debate on Bill C-35, the Canada early learning and child care act, is about them and the type of support they need from their government while their children are preschool age. They will find the Conservative caucus and the majority of the House supports the legislation at this stage, but they will also find two competing visions for the future of child care in Canada.
The Conservative vision flows from our belief in small government and big citizens. We respect the agency of parents to make the child care decisions that meet their individual needs. That means we must ensure families have financial flexibility to create the life they dream of for themselves and their children. To do that, we need to make life more affordable, lower taxes and leave more of their hard-earned dollars in their pockets.
I was part of the previous Conservative government that promoted income splitting for families, implemented a child care tax credit and the universal child care benefit. We did so with a balanced budget.
The child care benefit was a direct cash transfer to Canadian families that gave them more flexibility in their child care choices with no strings attached. It was so well received that when the Liberals came to office, they decided to keep it in place and rebranded it as the Canada child benefit. The benefit was universal and supported the needs of every child in Canada.
Unfortunately, the vision of the NDP-Liberal government fails to meet that standard. Bill C-35 would not help every preschooler in Canada, not by a long shot. The legislation flows from its core belief that government is the best solution to societal problems. That is why the bill would give more power to the government to decide who gets child care support and who will provide the services.
What the government is offering is an Ottawa-knows-best solution, forcing provinces to give the federal government more control over their jurisdiction. For example, the child care agreement with B.C. will direct $3.2 billion into the child care system, with one key condition: that those dollars only be allocated to run regulated day cares.
That means families that choose to have a parent take time away from work to focus on the most formative years of their child’s life will not benefit from this spending. Parents working shifts beyond the hours of operation of regulated day cares will not receive any further support. Parents who prefer to rely on family members for child care will not receive support. This includes new Canadians, many of whom are waiting for the arrival of grandparents to help with their child care but are stuck in the Liberal-made backlog at the immigration department, which is well over two million applications long.
Many indigenous parents who distrust child care institutions, given their family experience with residential schools, will not receive support when they arrange child care alternatives. Parents in rural and remote communities where regulated child care is often not available will not get a nickel of support. For those who are able to align their schedules to benefit from this program, they may need to wait years on a wait-list.
That said, the child care agreement with British Columbia will help some families, but far too many are being left behind. After eight years, I expected an inclusive child care approach from the Prime Minister, because after all it is 2023. His Deputy Prime Minister promised better when she introduced the child care plan in her budget. She said:
This is women's liberation. It will mean more women no longer need to choose between motherhood and a career. This is feminist economic policy in action.
This is typical of the Liberal government: big promises but no follow-through.
Bill C-35 and the related child care agreements fall demonstrably short. Instead, the Liberal government implemented a program, frankly, straight out of the 1970s, when women were generally limited to typical nine-to-five jobs.
Speaking as someone who was a single mother for four years following the death of my first husband and as a woman who raised four children with a career in law and politics, this program is certainly not feminist economic policy.
I do not know where the Liberals have been for the last 50 years, but while women have been breaking the glass ceilings of every industry and every realm of life, have they really noticed? Women are leaders in the military, policing, medicine, aerospace, engineering, mining and resource extraction.
They are on the cutting edge of research and development. They are bolstering our food supply chains as agricultural producers. They are manufacturing the cars we drive and designing the transit systems we rely on. Many women are taking up jobs in the skilled trades, helping to construct the homes and highways that we need to build up our great country. Women are thriving in industries that were once male dominated, and they need flexible child care options that meet their needs.
The idea of a national child care program is a recycled Liberal election promise from the 1980s, but it does not seem to have evolved with the times. John Turner promised the program in 1984 and 1988, but could not win a mandate. Jean Chrétien made a similar promise in 1993, but failed to deliver the program despite having successive majority governments.
Liberal leaders ever since, including Martin, Dion and Ignatieff, all made similar promises but never got it done. The current Prime Minister copied and pasted the program into their election platform, but failed to modernize it for women working in today’s economy.
To make matters worse, the program fails to live up to the standard set by the courts. In 2010, as an administrative law judge with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, I presided over the Johnstone case.
Fiona Johnstone worked rotating shifts as a border services officer. Her child care preference was to rely on family to care for her children, but her family was available only three days a week. She sought accommodations from her employer, the Canada Border Services Agency, requesting that she work full time with extended shifts over those three days. Her employer refused her request, believing it had no obligation under the Canadian Human Rights Act to accommodate her personal choices around child care.
After hearing testimony from several child care experts on availability and quality, I made a precedent-setting decision that found the CBSA discriminated against Fiona Johnstone by failing to accommodate her child care request. My decision, which has since been upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal, protected child care choice as a right for working parents under the ground of family status in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
I would hope that a national child care program would reflect the ruling of the court by supporting the child care choices of all Canadian parents. Sadly, it falls short. In fact, the bill itself is a half-hearted effort. After eight years, when the Liberals could have gotten it right, most of it is inconsequential. A lengthy preamble, a declaration and some guiding principles make up most of the bill.
The one thing the bill would do is establish an advisory council to advise the minister on child care going forward.
I have four pieces of advice for this council to consider in order to help families take control of their child care choices. The first is to find solutions that help all parents in the modern economy. The second is to empower parents to make child care choices that suit their needs. The third is to refrain from dictating to provincial governments how to deliver those services. After eight years, it is difficult for other orders of government to take the federal government seriously when it cannot even issue passports or process visa applications. The fourth is to find ways to give families more financial flexibility to build the lives they want.
The Liberals can start by axing their plan to triple the carbon tax. They can rein in government spending that is driving high interest rates and inflation, which is the cruellest tax of all. To conclude, Conservatives will vote to send the bill to committee and will seek to amend it with a clear objective, which is to make sure the national child care program respects the choices of all Canadian families.