Status of Women Canada

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Executive Summary
Contextual Factors: Deficit Reduction and Devolution
Downsizing and Deregulation
The Impacts on Women
Promises, Promises
Can Canada Work Without Child Care?

Federal Funding Withdrawal
Key Informants
Forum Participants
Changes in Recurring Grants, 1993 to 1996

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

For more information contact:

   Research Directorate
   Status of Women Canada
   360 Albert Street, Suite 700
   Ottawa, ONK1A 1C3

   Telephone: (613) 995-7835
   Facsimile: (613) 957-3359
   TDD: (613) 996-1322

Women's Support, Women's Work:

Child Care in an Era of Deficit Reduction, Devolution Downsizing and Deregulation

Gillian Doherty & Martha Friendly & Mab Oloman

The research and publication of this study were funded by Status of Women Canada's Policy Research Fund. This document expresses the views and opinions of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official policy or opinion of Status of Women Canada or the Government of Canada.

March 1998

Status of Women Canada is committed to ensuring that all research produced through the Policy Research Fund adheres to high methodological, ethical, and professional standards. The research must also make a unique, value-added contribution to current policy debates, and be useful to policy-makers, researchers, women's organizations, communities, and others interested in the policy process. Each paper is anonymously reviewed by specialists in the field, and comments are solicited on:
  • the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of the information presented;
  • the extent to which the analysis and recommendations are supported by the methodology used and the data collected;
  • the original contribution that the report would make to existing work on this subject, and its usefulness to equality-seeking organizations, advocacy communities, government policy-makers, researchers and other target audiences.
Status of Women Canada thanks those who contributed to this peer review process.

Status of Women Canada's Policy Research Fund was instituted in 1996 to support independent, nationally relevant policy research on gender equality issues. In order to determine the structure and priorities of the Policy Research Fund, Status of Women Canada held consultations from March to May 1996 with a range of national, regional and local women's organizations, researchers and research organizations, community, social service and professional groups, other levels of government, and individuals interested in women's equality. Consultation participants indicated their support for the Fund to address both long-term emerging policy issues as well as urgent issues, and recommended that a small, non-governmental external committee would play a key role in identifying priorities, selecting research proposals for funding, and exercising quality control over the final research papers.

As an interim measure during the fiscal year 1996-1997, consulation participants agreed that short-term research projects addressing immediate needs should be undertaken while the external committee was being established to develop longer-term priorities. In this context, policy research on issues surrounding the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) and access to justice were identified as priorities.

On June 21, 1996, a call for research proposals on the impact of the CHST on women was issued. The proposals were assessed by Status of Women Canada and external reviewers. The research projects selected for funding in this area focus on women receiving social assistance, economic security for families with children, women with disabilities, the availability and affordability of child care services, women and health care, and women's human rights.

The call for research proposals on access to justice was issued on July 18, 1996. Also assessed by Status of Women Canada and external reviewers, the selected policy research projects in this area include a study of abused immigrant women, lesbians, women and civil legal aid, family mediation, and the implications for victims of sexual harassment of the Supreme Court ruling in Béliveau-St. Jacques.

The objective of Status of Women Canada's Policy Research Fund is to enhance public debate on gender equality issues and contribute to the ability of individuals and organizations to participate more effectively in the policy development process. We believe that good policy is based on good policy research. We thank all the authors for their contribution to this objective.

A complete listing of the research projects funded by Status of Women Canada on issues surrounding the Canada Health and Social Transfer and access to justice is provided at the end of this report.

Table 1: Average fees, regulated full-time centre-based care by jurisdiction
Table 2 Child care subsidies for children age 0 to 6 in regulated centre programs by jurisdiction
Table 3 Perceived reasons for decreased affordability by jurisdiction
Table 4 Number of regulated of full-time centre-based child care spaces by jurisdiction

The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance provided by people from across the country, who willingly gave of their knowledge and patiently answered questions. Their names are listed in Appendix A. A special note of appreciation to Julie Mathien who conducted some of the interviews with provincial key informants.

The draft report was circulated for review and comment to:

  • Dr. Barbara Cameron, Department of Political Science, York University, Toronto.
    Dr. Cameron was chair of the Child Care Committee of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women during the Countdown for Child Care campaign in 1987 and has continued to provide consultation to the National Action Committee on issues related to child care; and

  • Dr. Donna Lero, Department of Family Studies, University of Guelph, Ontario.
    Dr. Lero is a well-known researcher and commentator on child care.
The final report benefited greatly from their insightful comments.

We also wish to thank Status of Women Canada for providing the funds to enable this examination of the impact of the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) and related policy changes on the availability and affordability of child care.

Among the multiplicity of objectives that high quality child care can meet is the pivotal goal of promoting equality for women. Child care has consequences for women both as mothers and as providers of care for other people's children. Thus, women have a powerful stake in child care policy. Canada has no national child care policy and its child care situation has never begun to approach adequacy. In the 1990s, however, federal funding reductions and withdrawal from the social policy field, coupled with provincial downsizing have induced a new child care crisis. The predicament in which the block-funded Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST), implemented in 1966, places child care embodies its standing in Canadian social policy. Child care has no "home" and its dwindling, mostly market-oriented funding arrangements ensure that even existing services are plagued with ever-increasing fragility. Yet Canada as a nation has a growing number of sectors that identify high quality, reliable child care/early childhood development services essential for their own agendas. National reports, such as that of the National Forum on Health, and national commitments, such as the Child Tax Benefit, plus a variety of international obligations and covenants, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of of Discrimination Against Women and the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, all need child care in order to be effective. This paper identifies what has been happening in child care over the last decade, describes policy options for the commencement of Canada's long-recommended national child care policy, and suggests that a successful resolution to the child care dilemma would serve as a good test for assessing the effectiveness of the new social union.

As noted by the 1984 Royal Commission on Equality of Employment, "child care is the ramp that provides equal access to the work force for mothers" (see Abella, 1984, 1978). Child care is also a major source of employment for women. According to census data, in 1991 there were 181,830 women providing child care. For mothers, lack of affordable child care may mean having to be out of the work force for several years, or part-time participation only. This results in a reduction of lifetime earnings, lost opportunities for career advancement and smaller pension benefits than would have been the case otherwise. For providers of child care, the reduction in government financial support means job insecurity and deteriorating working conditions.

The child care situation has become precarious right across the country as the affordability and availability of regulated child care decreases. In the period between 1990 and 1996, two provinces stopped providing recurring financial grants to child care programs, and the amount of such grants was decreased in four provinces. Recurring grants have been frozen in five jurisdictions. This means that new services cannot obtain them. Fees for child care increased in all the provinces and in the Yukon between 1989 and 1993. They increased again between 1993 and 1995 in five provinces and both territories. In the same period, average family incomes decreased, fee subsidy amounts failed to keep pace with fee increases and fee subsidies have been limited by a limit on the total fee subsidy budget or the total number of families served. The availability of regulated spaces has decreased in tandem with the decreased affordability. This is a result of programs closing or not staffing spaces because they cannot cover their operating costs. Child care providers are experiencing stress associated with funding cutbacks and the need to assume additional tasks. Some have lost their jobs.

The Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST), introduced in 1996 to replace the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) and Established Program Financing (EPF), and further reductions in federal funds for the provinces and territories, appear likely to exacerbate the situation. It is important to note that it is not the CHST alone that is affecting the affordability and availability of child care. The CHST is an extension of the federal government's retreat from cost sharing social service expenditures with the provinces, and reductions in the amount of federal funding that began in the late 1970s. Child care is also being affected by the changing roles of the federal and provincial/territorial governments in the social service area.

In the last few years, it has become increasingly evident that the availability of affordable, high quality child care is a crucial component in strategies to address broad national objectives. These national objectives include promoting the optimal development of all children, reducing the incidence of child poverty, developing a healthy economy, and promoting women's economic and social equality.

A shift in the roles and responsibilities of federal and provincial/territorial governments and between each of these levels of government and the citizens of Canada, is occurring. This shift is away from direct state funding of services to reliance on the tax system for income redistribution and away from a moderate degree of federal leadership and involvement in social programs to an emphasis on the primacy of the provinces. In this political climate, it is difficult to identify an approach that would halt the current rapid deterioration of child care services in Canada and move toward a national child care strategy. Yet Canada desperately needs affordable, high quality child care. This paper discusses some options for governments to work together to develop a national child care plan. The National Children's Agenda may provide a window of opportunity for so doing.

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Last updated : 29 mar 1998