Our Take: What does the Speech from the Throne mean for parents?
By Paisley Sim
The lead up to last Wednesday’s Speech from the Throne signalled that this address would be like no other.
It was nearly twice as long as usual and delivered to a small audience of mask-clad parliamentarians. Prime Minister Trudeau delivered a rare nation-wide address following the speech urging solidarity and compliance in the face of a second-wave. And it turned the Usher of the Black Rod into an unlikely style icon.
But much of the substance of the SFT sounded familiar. Governor-General Payette stated, “the Government will make a significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system.” You love to see it. Except, this is a promise nearly 50 years in the making.
Beginning with the 1970 Royal Commission on the Status of Women, which formally recommended childcare as a means of increasing women’s social equality, successive governments have tried (and failed) to introduce universal childcare.
In 1986, Katie Cooke’s Task Force on Child Care delivered 53 recommendations to the Mulroney government for a system funded by the federal and provincial/territorial governments. A 1987 special parliamentary committee produced three reports centred on market mechanisms like tax breaks for parents and incentives to create childcare spaces within workplaces.
Childcare promises were a perennial issue from the 1993 Liberal Party Red Book into the 2000s, promised and nearly delivered before Paul Martin’s government was defeated in 2006. Prime Minister Harper focused on choice in childcare and embarked on a period of ‘open federalism’ that reduced federal presence in provincial domain. In 2015, the Liberals delivered a single, boosted child tax benefit, and in 2019, promised to lower child care costs and make more spaces available. None of this amounts to a Canada-wide childcare system, however.
The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in unpaid care work and the economic downturn has disproportionally impacted women. Lack of affordable child care options is even more pronounced for low-income or racialized women.
With women’s labour market participation at its lowest rates in 30 years, and data suggesting the sectors women work in are slower to recover, the pandemic threatens to set women back decades. Only four in ten (higher income) Canadians can work from home, a feat made more challenging for those with young children.
Childcare is expensive in most of Canada, but Quebec’s affordable model stands as a successful driver of women’s increased labour force participation. If the Liberals are serious about delivering “a feminist, intersectional response to this pandemic and recovery,” it must begin with the long overdue promise of a national childcare program. Because intersectionality is not a kooky academic theory, but a necessary lens to evaluate and develop policy to address the economic moment.