Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. The federal government has been quietly probing how to provide provinces with more money annually for child care, as part of what sources describe as an issue that is at, or near, the top of the Liberal agenda to restart the economy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. The federal government has been quietly probing how to provide provinces with more money annually for child care, as part of what sources describe as an issue that is at, or near, the top of the Liberal agenda to restart the economy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Feds quietly probe expanded role for child care in post-pandemic recovery

Goal is for ‘Canadians have access to affordable, accessible, quality child care as they go back to work’

The federal government has been quietly probing how to provide provinces with more money annually for child care, as part of what sources describe as an issue that is at, or near, the top of the Liberal agenda to restart the economy.

Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen has spent the past two weeks making phone calls to experts in the field, asking about how federal spending on child care can be better targeted.

Hussen has asked about the risks the sector faces through the shutdown and issues that need to be addressed to help centres reopen.

At the same time, the agenda for a group of deputy ministers has in recent days included child-care funding and social infrastructure, hoping to capitalize on the goodwill between the federal and provincial governments during the pandemic.

The suggestion coming through those conversations is that the Liberals are exploring how Ottawa can better co-ordinate a patchwork of provincial systems, so a lack of child care does not trip up the desired recovery from the COVID-19 shutdown in the second half of the year.

Speaking to The Canadian Press on Saturday, Hussen said a message coming to him is a desire for the federal government to help co-ordinate an area of provincial jurisdiction to ensure more uniformity across the country so “Canadians have access to affordable, accessible, quality child care as they go back to work.”

Other details come from sources inside government with knowledge of the actions and others in close contact with the Liberals and federal officials. They spoke to The Canadian Press over the course of last week on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, or because they were not authorized to reveal behind-the-scenes efforts.

More than three million Canadians are out of work, according to Statistics Canada, and 2.5 million more had their hours slashed as public health restrictions forced the closure of businesses and sent workers home. Child-care centres and services have closed for all but essential workers.

The Liberals have acknowledged that getting parents back on the job, or increasing their productivity, won’t be possible without a place for their children to go, be it school or daycare. The situation is particularly acute for women, who have seen proportionately steeper job losses than men, and are more often in part-time work, as well as in sectors affected early on.

Statistics Canada reported this month that 1.5 million women lost jobs over March and April, a 17 per cent drop from February levels, and suggested challenges for a recovery will be different for women.

“The need for child care has never been made clearer,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this month during a press briefing.

He said funding child care overseen by provinces is a responsibility the federal government shares in “to deliver the kind of child care that is needed.”

The federal government is in the midst of a 10-year, $7 billion spend on child care.

The first round of three-year funding agreements was to expire at the end of March, but the timing of having a new minister put in charge of the file after the fall federal election, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to the deals being rolled over for another year.

Among the ideas put to the Liberals is a proposal to amend the extended agreements so provinces can direct federal funds to help daycares manage ongoing costs — beyond what they may receive from the federal wage subsidy or small business loan program.

READ MORE: B.C. restaurants can host dine-in guests Tuesday, but what will that look like?

At the same time, the Liberals are moving ahead with a promised child-care secretariat that would work towards building a national system. Outside experts consulted on child-care plans have suggested the government house the secretariat inside the Privy Council Office, which aids the prime minister and cabinet.

Andrew Bevan, who co-authored a recent paper on child care’s place in the recovery, said reopening the economy quickly and getting parents back on the job would be impossible without safe and secure child care, particularly for mothers.

“While it is true that child care by itself isn’t the silver bullet for Canada’s economic and social recovery, it certainly will help the recovery happen more quickly and beyond that, the result will be more fair if child care is properly taken care of,” said Bevan, who served as chief of staff to former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne.

Pumping more money into child care won’t be simple. To expand existing capacity, there would need to be more physical space built and more early childhood educators hired in regulated daycares, all of which will take time.

Some of those workers will need care for their own children if they are to return to work.

Hussen said he has had conversations about what social infrastructure will be needed to ensure there are enough spaces available to parents returning to work, and that child care workers have the necessary safety equipment so parents feel confident their kids are safe.

“We want to get this right,” he said.

It’s why the Liberals have been told to do a different kind of economic recovery stimulus, including money for new centres, retrofits of older ones and funding training programs and wage increases to expand the ranks of early childhood educators.

“Social infrastructure is a really important piece of how we get back to the new normal,” said Kate Bezanson, the associate dean of social sciences at Brock University who co-authored the paper with Bevan.

“It takes multi-year investment and its benefits accrue over time.”

Jordan Press and Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A laboratory technician holds a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate that’s ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand. (Mladen Antonov - AFP)
Interior Health reports 66 new COVID-19 infections

570 cases are active; 18 in hospital

Shovels hit the ground in 2019 for the 20-unit Phase 4 project. Those units are nearing completion and Phase 5, another 20 units, has just received funding from the Building BC: Community Housing Fund. (Stephanie Hagenaars photo)
Evergreen Acres receives government funding for Phase 5

An announcement of hundreds of new affordable rental homes came from the… Continue reading

A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 uses walking sticks while walking up a hill, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Interior Health reports 83 more COVID-19 infections overnight

46 cases are now associated with a COVID-19 community cluster in Revelstoke

A man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

(Metro Creative Photo)
Hey kids, time to write up some holiday magic

The contest is open to students and home-schooled students

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

Most Read