What’s a government to do when getting as many people as possible into the workforce is the key to sustained economic growth?
Since the 1980s, consumption, not manufacturing, has been Canada’s economic driver—in fact, as much as 80 per cent of GDP. Much of this employment growth has been in low-paying service jobs, more often than not, filled by women.
Immigration to Canada is a critical component to increase consumption and grow the economy. Equally important, are mothers, many of whom cannot afford to work because childcare is too expensive. In most urban areas, where the majority of Canadians live, childcare for one toddler can cost more than $1,400 per month.
Governments dribbling out childcare benefits to individuals has failed miserably to increase the supply of affordable childcare spaces to meet the overwhelming demand.
It took a female finance minister to connect the dots. By reducing employment barriers to a large swath of working-age Canadians through affordable childcare, the offset will be higher productivity and significant economic growth. Quebec’s $5 per day childcare has more than paid for itself through the multiplier effect of increased female participation in the workplace.
The argument over affordable childcare is sharply divided between those who believe a woman should be a wife and full-time mom versus those parents who have no choice but to work, single parents who need to go back to school, or mothers who want the same opportunities as fathers to be a parent and pursue a career.
The argument is between parents who don’t want their tax dollars going to support other children, and parents who work at minimum wage jobs and don’t have a spouse or free babysitting from grandparents.
In a nutshell, it’s the great divide between the “Leave-it-to-Beaver” families whose mothers don’t need to work and the vast majority of families and single parents who do.
Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland has thrown the gauntlet down and now we women wait to see how our 10 male premiers will react to a policy that has no direct benefit for them.
We already know the answer in Alberta.
Even in a pandemic, our Premier has refused to make deals with ‘that guy in Ottawa’ foregoing millions of dollars that could have been used early on to assist front-line workers and small businesses. So, there is no hope that our wife-less, childless, 52-year-old male Premier would even entertain Freeland’s offer.
Kenney’s personal grudges and rigid parochial beliefs have always trumped cooperation, consultation and negotiations. While Quebec, British Columbia, Newfoundland, the Maritime provinces will cut a deal, and more than likely Ontario and Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta will decline and cling to the ‘good ole days’ where moms stay at home, the husband provides, and divorces are few.
In contrast, business communities understand how important affordable childcare is to their success and economic wellbeing.
Adam Legge, President of the Business Council of Alberta, reinforced this view when commenting on the 2021 budget. He opined that robust national childcare and early education programs are key investments that will position Canada for the future.
Research overwhelmingly suggests early childhood learning is the major determinant of an adult’s future productivity. In the long term, building productive citizens indirectly benefits everyone.
Even though the initial investment in affordable childcare sounds like a lot of money—the long-term dividends for women, immigrants, children and the Canadian economy are great.
To understand the significance of this program, however, one needs to live and work in a broader context than Mr. Kenney’s male-dominated, elitist bubble.