Report of the committee
Tuesday, November 21, 2023
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology has the honour to present its
Your committee, to which was referred Bill C-35, An Act respecting early learning and child care in Canada, has, in obedience to the order of reference of Thursday, September 28, 2023, examined the said bill and now reports the same without amendment but with certain observations, which are appended to this report.
Observations to the seventeenth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Bill C-35)
Your committee observes that comprehensive, valid, timely and comparable data must be collected to monitor, evaluate and improve the effectiveness of early learning and child care in Canada. Your committee shares concerns cited by Inclusion Canada that a lack of data will make it harder to advocate for more accessible and inclusive spaces for children from equity-deserving groups. Your committee is particularly concerned that children with disabilities will face barriers to inclusive early learning and child care, which requires the provision of supports to ensure equal opportunity and access. Your committee, therefore, urges the Government of Canada to develop a national early learning and child care data strategy to allow evidence-based policy and funding decisions to inform the vision, and the promise of this legislation. Your committee also recommends that the reporting requirements be made widely available to the public in easily accessible formats.
Your committee heard the importance of applying the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), with a particular focus on Article 24. This article highlights the fundamental rights of individuals with disabilities to education, emphasizing the importance of realizing these rights without discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities for all. Your committee, therefore, recommends the understanding that inclusion occurs when children with disabilities are learning, developing, and playing together with their non-disabled peers in the same spaces and environments, with appropriate supports, and where relationships and participation are facilitated.
When it comes to language rights and bilingualism, your committee heard that New Brunswick enjoys a unique status in the Canadian constitutional landscape. Indeed, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms contains specific language provisions for this province, including section 16.1, which provides for the equal status of its two linguistic communities, English and French – a constitutional recognition of the collective rights of each linguistic community. The social contract uniting the province’s citizens rests in part on these constitutional foundations. In implementing the Canadian government’s commitment to ongoing collaboration with New Brunswick to support its efforts to establish and maintain a community-based early learning and child care system, your committee affirms that New Brunswick’s constitutional and linguistic specificity must be given due consideration. The importance of supporting the elements of the educational continuum in a linguistic minority setting, from early childhood to post-secondary education, must not be overlooked. Your committee expects the Canadian government to advance opportunities for citizens from official language minority communities, including New Brunswick’s francophone community, to pursue quality learning in their own language throughout their lives, in accordance with the Official Languages Act.
Your committee notes that clause 7(1)(c) of the bill explicitly refers to “English and French linguistic minority communities”, while clause 11(1) refers to “official language minority communities”. While your committee acknowledges this inconsistency in terminology, it maintains that the two terms used respect the spirit of the Official Languages Act.
To ensure consistency with other parts of the bill, your committee clearly heard that the current text of section 8 of the bill requires the addition of an explicit reference to official language minority communities. Experts and civil society organizations have testified to the potential impact of omitting such an explicit reference, including interpretation issues in the case of litigation before the courts. Your committee expects the federal government to take this testimony into account by ensuring that it maintains long-term funding for early learning and child care programs and services for official language minority communities. Your committee affirms that the implementation of section 8 of the bill must respect the language rights of these communities, as provided for in the Official Languages Act and applicable case law.
Your committee heard that studies conducted on early learning and child care in other jurisdictions, such as New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom, have shown the growing influence of private equity firms in the child care sector, with a primary focus on profit generation. Instead of directing government child care funds toward supporting essential support services, these funds are diverted toward private real estate investments that are not necessarily creating additional childcare facilities. Furthermore, many of the child care providers are in substantial debt and are incurring significant losses. Your committee is concerned with these developments and does not want Canada to follow down that path. Your committee recommends that the agreements with provinces and territories limit this type of child care model and focus on providing funding to create a high quality public early learning and child care system.