Liberals say money for national child-care system coming in 2021 budget

Finance Minister Freeland's Fall Economic Update provided no mention of new money for a national child care plan, but say investment in a national plan will come in the Liberals' spring budget.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The federal government is proposing millions of dollars in new spending as a down payment on a planned national child-care system that the Liberals say will be outlined in next spring's budget.

As a start, the Liberals are proposing in their fiscal update to spend $420 million in grants and bursaries to help provinces and territories train and retain qualified early-childhood educators.

The Liberals are also proposing to spend $20 million over five years to build a child-care secretariat to guide federal policy work, plus $15 million in ongoing spending for a similar Indigenous-focused body.

The money is designed to lay the foundation for what is likely going to be a big-money promise in the coming budget.

Current federal spending on child care expires near the end of the decade, but the Liberals are proposing now to keep the money flowing, starting with $870 million a year in 2028.

The Canadian Press has previously reported that the government is considering annual spending beyond that figure as it contemplates how to work with provinces to add more child-care spaces, while ensuring good learning environments and affordability for parents.

"I say this both as a working mother and as a minister of finance: Canada will not be truly competitive until all Canadian women have access to the affordable child care we need to support our participation in our country’s workforce," Freeland says in the text of her speech on the fiscal update, released in advance to journalists.

Calling it an element of a "feminist agenda," Freeland adds that spending the money makes "sound business sense" and has the backing of many corporate leaders.

A Scotiabank estimate earlier this fall suggested that creating nationally what Quebec has provincially would cost $11.5 billion a year.

A report on prospects for national daycare last week from the Centre for Future Work estimated governments could rake in between $18 billion and $30 billion per year in new revenues as more parents go into the workforce.

Freeland has made a note in recent days about the need to do something on child care given how many women fell out of the workforce when COVID-19 forced the closures of schools and daycares in the spring.

Many have not gone back to work.

Dec. 7 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, which at the time called for governments to immediately get going on a national daycare system.

As Freeland noted during a virtual fundraiser last week, many women who were toddlers then are mothers now and the country hasn't moved far enough on child care.

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