Child Care and the Harper Agenda: Transforming Canada's Social Policy Regime

By Findlay, Tammy | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Child Care and the Harper Agenda: Transforming Canada's Social Policy Regime


Findlay, Tammy, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Introduction

Child care is an excellent lens through which to analyze the immense social policy transformation taking place under the Harper Conservatives. While it may appear that there has been little federal action in the area of social policy, including early learning and child care, over the last eight years of Conservative governance, a closer examination reveals a careful reconfiguration of the familial, social citizenship and representational order of Canada. After a brief overview of the policy landscape, I argue that Harper's child care policy is changing Canada's gender regime along at least three axes: social reproduction, federalism, and advocacy.

The Policy Landscape

In public policy studies, students are taught that public policy includes both government action and inaction (Pal 2013). Accordingly, Pasolli and Young (2012) stress the importance of considering when governments choose not to act in child care policy.1 What the Conservatives have not done is invest in building a pan-Canadian, public system of early learning and child care of the sort that exists in many other advanced industrialized countries and has been sought by the advocacy community for over forty years. In fact, the previous steps taken in this direction by the Martin Liberal government were quickly reversed by the Conservatives.

In the early 2000s, three federal/provincial/territorial (FPT) agreements were struck to transfer funds from the federal government to the provinces and territories for services related to early learning, development and care, as part of the National Children's Agenda. In 2000, the Early Childhood Development Agreement (ECDA) was introduced to channel $2.2 billion of investment over five years into four areas: healthy pregnancy, birth and infancy; parenting and family supports; early childhood development, learning and care; and community supports. In 2003, the Multilateral Framework Agreement on Early Learning and Child Care emerged to specifically direct $1.05 billion in federal transfers over five years to improve access to affordable, quality, provincially and territorially regulated early learning and child care programs and services. Finally, in 2005, the Bilateral Agreements-in-Principle on Early Learning and Child Care committed $5 billion over five years towards a national child-care system, working in cooperation with provinces and territories and building on the Multilateral Framework Agreement (Anderson and Findlay 2010).

The Bilateral Agreements were cancelled in 2006 when the Conservatives came to power. But this isn't exactly a case of policy inaction. These agreements were replaced by two alternatives: the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) and the Child Care Spaces Initiative (CCSI). The UCCB is a taxable, unconditional transfer of $100 per month to all families with children under the age of six. The CCSI began as a plan to provide financial incentives to business and non-profits, with the goal that they would create 25, 000 new child care spaces. The federal government committed $250 million a year for five years, starting in 2007-2008. When the effectiveness of this approach was widely questioned, the funds were instead rolled into the Canada Social Transfer (CST) to the provinces and territories (Mahon 2009; Ballantyne 2008).

These instruments have brought little progress in key child care policy indicators such as increased spaces, lower fees for parents, or improved wages and training for early childhood educators (Friendly et al. 2013). At the same time, their long-term consequences are substantial:

The fallout from Harper's child care policy will be felt for years to come. Federal transfers specifically dedicated for early learning and child care were reduced by almost 37% in 2007-08. The $1,200 taxable allowance cost the federal government an estimated $2.4 billion in 2007-08 and the price tag will keep going up. This is money that should have been used to begin to build an accessible, affordable and quality early learning and child care system (Ballantyne 2008 343). …

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