The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
Ottawa takes baby steps while BC backtracks on child
Lynell Anderson and
“I have tried 5 different babysitters. I wish I could send my child
back to the daycare centre; he loved it there – but when we lost the
subsidy we had to leave. We can barely pay our rent and buy food.”
It may come as a surprise to hear this statement in 2004 from a
Canadian family. After all, the federal government has increased
funding to the provinces for early childhood development programs — of
which child care is a cornerstone —in every year since 2001. Yet this
is only one of many concerns raised recently by parents in Surrey/White
Rock as part of a community consultation.
The fact is that, in spite of three years of increased federal funding
for early childhood development (ECD), child care in BC has not
improved. Community members tell us that things have instead gotten
worse for most middle- and low-income families.
How can this be? A close look at the BC Government’s reporting to
Ottawa explains the puzzle.
In an agreement put in place in 2000, the federal and provincial
governments made a joint commitment to improve and expand ECD programs,
including child care, for children aged birth through six. The
agreement included a federal funding commitment to BC totaling $290
million over a 5-year period beginning in 2001/02.
Unfortunately for BC families, when the current government took office,
it began to shift the province’s early childhood development priorities
away from child care. While it has increased support for some
initiatives —including research, community forums and grants to
charitable organizations — it has done so using a combination of the
new federal money for ECD and money from direct cuts to child care.
The province’s own reporting acknowledges that in the first two years
after the joint agreement was signed, BC received over $83 million for
ECD — and at the same time cut an astonishing $23 million from child
care subsidies for low- and moderate-income families.
In 2002/03 alone, the BC Government increased spending on its preferred
early childhood development priority areas by $44 million. Thirty eight
per cent of this money came from increased federal funds. The other 62
per cent came from substantial cuts to child care and other ECD
programs deemed to be of lower priority.
The provincial government’s stated commitment to child care as “a
cornerstone of early childhood development” stands in sharp contrast to
the reality of its funding decisions. While the programs that benefited
from increased spending are important and worthwhile, they should not
be funded at the expense of child care.
“All these other services are fine and good, but I need child care.”
Families, service providers and community members have not spent the
last two decades urging the federal government to take a leadership
role in funding child care only to have our provincial government spend
the funds in other areas while it guts this essential component of BC’s
overall early childhood development program.
And this is only part of the picture. When we factor in the elimination
of the province’s low-cost, universal program for school-aged children
(six to 12 years of age), the child care situation is even worse.
The research is clear. Access to quality, affordable child care
promotes healthy child development and supports families as they work,
study, parent and participate in their communities.
“They say they want us to work. They say they want us to be good
parents. They say that we should give our children the chance to
learn…but then they cut the programs we need.”
Ninety per cent of Canadians think we should have a nationally
coordinated child care plan. This goal is both achievable and
sustainable. Countries across Europe have made quality, publicly funded
child care a reality for years. Shamefully, of 22 affluent countries —
including the UK and US — Canada has the lowest percentage of three-
and four-year olds in licensed child care or education.
This year, the federal government will again increase funding for early
childhood development. May is child care month in BC, and this
increased federal commitment should be cause for celebration. Instead,
our provincial government’s approach to spending federal funds on
‘anything but child care’ has left British Columbia’s families off the