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Canada Early Learning and Child Care Bill

Third Reading

December 7, 2023

Honourable senators, I rise to speak on this important piece of legislation: Bill C-35. We’ve heard from many of you during this debate, bringing to bear both your experiences and background on why this legislation is so important for those in your communities. Tonight, I’d like to add what this legislation will mean for my region of Waterloo.

From 2016 to 2021, Waterloo was the sixth-fastest growing large urban centre in Canada. Young families were moving there because of access to the economy in the Golden Horseshoe and a growing job market. I have to say that the region of Waterloo, with its eight townships, is a mighty fine place to live.

An influx of young families will, of course, bring with it much more demand for early childhood education and child care. As is the case across much of the world, gone are the days when one parent — almost always the father — would earn an income while the other parent stayed at home. Now both parents often have to work. Often, this is out of necessity, but, as we’ve discussed over the course of this debate, this has unlocked untold economic potential for our country, and has allowed women to enter the workforce and pursue a career outside the home.

But this comes at a cost for those who have children and young families. They often have to make a hard choice in how their children will be cared for in those early and formative years.

Consider that, as recently as 2022, families in the Waterloo region were forced to pay between $9,012 and $23,939 annually for one child to be in full-time licensed child care. And now consider that the most recent census results show that the median after-tax income of households in the Waterloo region is $81,000. At the median cost of child care that I just referenced, the average family in Waterloo, and many other communities, would have to spend roughly 20% of their household income for a child care spot. With two young children, that’s about 40%.

Families look at these costs and have a stark choice to make. Is it even worth it for both parents to work if one parent is barely covering the costs of child care? If they decide it’s not, it goes without saying that, too often, it is the mother who makes the decision to stay at home. While this is only a temporary arrangement before the children are old enough to attend school, I don’t need to explain to this room — of high-achieving individuals — what even a few years of interrupted professional development means for one’s career. Not only is this a loss to the individual, but to the economy as well.

You’ve heard the statistics: Forcing mothers to stay at home because child care is unaffordable has a negative impact on the economy. We will always respect moms who choose to stay home.

Part of this unaffordability, especially in growing regions like Waterloo, is due to a lack of child care spaces. Costs are high because there are so few spots to go around. Currently in Waterloo, 7,000 children are on the wait-list for child care. Some haven’t even been born yet, but if parents wait, their child will be in school before a spot is available. So this conversation — about whether it’s even worth it for both parents to work — is happening inside thousands of households in my region.

Colleagues, that is why I was so happy when, last year, 98% of Waterloo child care operators opted into the $10-a-day program — when a deal was reached between the federal government and the province as part of the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care system — and it’s why I was even more thrilled when, just two weeks ago, through this agreement, the provincial government announced they would provide the region with $97 million to help create 3,725 child care spaces over the next three years.

This included an announcement that early child care workers enrolled in the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care system will get a 19% pay raise, and they will see their pay increase, on average, from $20 an hour to $23.86 an hour, as of January 1. This is good news.

It’s this latter point, colleagues, that I want to focus on at this moment. For this program to work, we need qualified, motivated staff to work in these centres with our young children. To do so, potential workers need education. They need training. It’s not the kind of vocation that one can take on a whim. There needs to be some stability and the promise that Canadians — who want a career in this field — know these jobs will be there for them once they complete their training.

It’s the kind of stability that this legislation offers. It enshrines into law the federal commitment to early learning and child care that is needed for this system to grow and thrive. Specifically, for those who wish to embark on a rewarding career in early childhood education, clause 7 states:

Federal investments respecting the establishment and maintenance of a Canada-wide early learning and child care system — as well as the efforts to enter into related agreements with the provinces and Indigenous peoples — must be guided by the principles by which early learning and child care programs and services should be accessible, affordable, inclusive and of high quality and must, therefore, aim to

. . . support the provision of high-quality early learning and child care programs and services that foster the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of young children, including through the recruitment and retention of a qualified and well-supported early childhood education workforce, recognizing that working conditions affect the provision of those programs and services.

Colleagues, I had the special privilege of working in, with and for education for over 35 years. Working first-hand — and sometimes on the classroom floor — with families, child care leaders and early learning leaders, they taught me so much. I had the opportunity to pilot early learning programs, such as Strong Start which helps young learners get a jump on their literacy and numeracy. Before I finish, let me take a moment to take you back a few years.

As I look about the Senate, being a young child, or the parent of a young child, might have been a while ago, and it might have been quite different for most of us. Many of you are grandparents and great-grandparents.

In my education system leadership, I had the opportunity to work with Ms. Mary Lou Mackie. She was an executive superintendent of learning who was passionate and relentless about the conditions for success and our inclusion for all students and their families. She advocated very hard to change our structures to improve early student learning — one example being full-day kindergarten and the Extended Day Program in Ontario.

What is the Extended Day Program, you ask? That is basically where child care comes to the students. Their day is extended in the classroom, and it’s a seamless daycare that comes into the classroom so that there’s less disruption on our students rather than the child care taking place in a separate facility. It was a significant and fabulous change for our young people.

Ms. Mackie, like many of us, was inspired by the late Charles E. Pascal — the prime architect of full-day kindergarten and extended day learning in Ontario. I would like to share a quote with you today. This was said by Pascal while he was the special adviser on early learning to the Premier of Ontario and the executive director of the Atkinson Foundation:

In my view, there can be no better measure of progress of our society, our nation, than how well we support the youngest of our young through a shared and consistent commitment about the needs of all of Canada’s children. Like a teeter-totter with a decentralized block of cement dropped on one end, our nation seems up in the air. While we still have some glue left that seems to define what it means to be a Canadian, the obvious binder being universal health care, we need more . . . much more. High quality early childhood education which is a key determinant of health, one that can dramatically reduce health care expenditures, should be the stuff of getting our nation moving to a more cohesive and balanced society.

Charles Pascal passed away earlier this year. If he hadn’t, he would be sitting front row watching this debate. His passionate commitment to building an education system that enshrined high‑quality early learning and child care has continued to resonate with many and challenge some. Pascal’s views were not partisan; rather, they reflected deeply held principles, supported time and again by research. He believed that fragmented policies and structures can and do prevent the kind of progress necessary to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of early learning for children, parents, guardians and governments alike.

Senators, I have seen first-hand how wonderful it is when these things go well. I have also seen the repercussions when they do not. This legislation, in formulating principles that I think tick every box that we need ticked at this moment, will ensure that these early learning and child care programs succeed in every region, in every community, from coast to coast to coast — not just mine.

It’s not merely throwing money at a problem. It’s creating a scaffolding with which early learning and child care can grow and thrive in this country, and not just for those who can afford it but for all Canadians. Thank you, meegwetch.

Hon. Frances Lankin [ - ]

Honourable senators, I am so excited to speak to this bill. This is a passion of mine and has been for many years. Before I start, I want to very much thank Senator Moodie for her excellent job as sponsor of this bill. Boy, I’ll tell you, it’s been a long time coming.

I also want to say congratulations to Senator Cormier and others who fought fiercely and passionately for the amendment that was passed yesterday. I had informed Senator Cormier and Senator Poirier before that I would be voting against it. I think you know, from the passion I seem to have found to articulate to you what I believe are the legislative, legal and order of law parameters, that I feel strongly about the issue of federal-provincial jurisdiction.

I did vote against it, but I took the time, with the help of Louise Mercier in my office, to pull the Canada-Ontario agreement. We heard much about this, but nobody entered it into the record, and I want to do that.

In recognizing that it’s a provincial jurisdiction, and in this case I’m talking about my province of Ontario, we looked at the Ontario agreement and the language that the federal government insisted on in the negotiations, which appears in this. I believe that whenever there has been an agreement signed thus far, the same language appears. I haven’t checked them all, so I’m not going to assert that, but that’s what I have been informed of.

Let me read to you, from the “objectives and areas of investment” section, so tying it to measurement and investment, the overarching objectives that have to be met. One of them is inclusivity, and it’s very clear here in the agreement: “Ontario commits to develop —” put in by the federal government and negotiated with the provincial, but the jurisdiction is provincial “— and fund —” with federal and provincial dollars “— a plan that supports access to licensed child care spaces for . . . .” And there are a lot of categories that we would imagine for inclusivity:

. . . for vulnerable children and children from diverse populations . . . children living in low income families, children with disabilities and children needing enhanced or individual supports, Indigenous children, Black and other racialized children, children of newcomers to Canada. . . .

The point I was making yesterday about these agreements was a very specific reference to the subject of our amendment yesterday: official language minorities. Later, it talks about what that means, but official language.

We know what that means: “Where possible, to report the annual public expenditures on child care programming dedicated to children from . . . .” these various groups, and let’s be straight‑up — we have not had reporting requirements like this before in a whole range of programs where we seek to know whether we have made progress, but the numbers aren’t there. The federal government negotiated with the province by funding collaboratively and placing respect in their jurisdiction to reach these goals.

Specifically, with respect to the amendment yesterday, they commit to, and Ontario commits:

. . . to maintain or increase the current level of licensed child care spaces offering French-language programs and licensed spaces offering bilingual programs for children age 0 to 5 by fiscal year 2025 to 2026 and continue to meet or exceed the number of French child care spaces for children age 0 to 5 proportional to the population of French speaking people in Ontario by fiscal year 2025 to 2026 . . . .

It goes on.

The point I want to make is that these agreements we enter into when there are funding agreements in federal-provincial jurisdiction, we have not in the past had such explicit direction that could be monitored because there was no monitoring; there was no data. This promises to fix that, and I think we will be able to, at an appropriate time, measure the results that will also be in response to the amendment that was passed by this chamber yesterday, and we will be able to see the success — or not — and hold accountable the funding partner here.

There’s also a commitment, by the way, to appropriate development of these plans going forward with representatives of all of the diverse groups who should be involved in this, so the duty to consult, which doesn’t apply to all groups — morally, maybe — which doesn’t include the province, has been written into the federal-provincial agreement.

I want to go on with where we are — and my history. Some of my friends have looked at my history and said, “Can’t you keep a job?” I keep doing different things in my life, but they have all built up to an experience which has helped form my approach to things and my sense of my values.

My first job out of university in the early 1970s was as a director of a child care centre. It was a for-profit child care centre. I learned a lot and came out of that fully committed to universal access to non-profit, quality child care, and those aren’t buzz words. They make a difference.

I can tell you about the broken equipment that kids were injured on. I can tell you about the poor quality of meals. I can tell you about our getting a call from the Ministry of Social Services two days before an inspector showed up — every time an inspector was coming. What we had to go through to clean the place up and make it look great for those inspectors belies the problem, where profit is a motive to up the revenue, and it comes at the expense of our most precious assets — our kids. I very strongly believe that. To me, this bill doesn’t go far enough on that, but it does speak to the preference for that and to working with provinces to try to achieve that.

I was also — here is where I start to admit how old I am — a founding member of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care. I was a member of the Ontario Federation of Labour Women’s Committee. I was a representative on the coalition that came together to look at child care, and I was a representative for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union at that point in time.

We started our work — are you ready for this? — in 1981. We’ve been working for years on the issue, but this coalition, which led to the establishment of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, was formed in 1981. We issued our report, which I’m going to talk about in a second, called Daycare — back in those days we called it “daycare,” not “child care.” We’ve graduated from older language. We’ve evolved and transitioned. The report was called, in 1986, Daycare Deadline 1990. Keep that in your mind.

I want to talk for a moment about some of the recommendations that came out of that report. For any of you who are interested in that report for a historical review and to see the relevance today, our office will gladly provide you the link to it. You can find it online.

I mentioned that we started this work as a coalition with labour, community partners and others in 1981. Reading from the report, there are a number of recommendations. I won’t go through them all. Let me just highlight that they are divided into — our province of Ontario, for example — what Ontario must do, what the federal government must do and what the roles of municipalities, labour and management are. There are numerous recommendations under each of these. Within the “what Ontario must do” category is a number of things, including — by the way, we were looking for implementation then of a $5-per-day space subsidy, right, which would do nothing today. Had they done it then, we would be in a lot better situation — implementing that immediately and move for the rest of the recommendation implementations by 1986.

On what the federal government must do, okay, please understand the relevance of the bill before us. They must create a national child care act to demonstrate a federal government commitment to the philosophy of universal child care as a public service that should be implemented. The act would replace the Canada Assistance Plan as it relates to daycare services and provides funding on a universal basis.

You remember how many years ago that was. You know what we’re doing today with this bill. I sometimes wonder.

There is a really interesting section on the role of municipalities and labour and management, and I want to pay tribute to those in the trade union movement who stepped ahead, before the Ontario government, before the federal government, and created workplace-based child care programs. One of the first was what was then — it might have even been the United Auto Workers, or UAW, and then the Canadian Auto Workers, or CAW, and now Unifor, and their particular focus was auto plants and the shift workers and the impossible situation of parents working shifts in terms of getting the appropriate care for their kids. They stepped forward. Many other trade unions did, in public the sector, in what we call the MUSH sector in Ontario — municipalities, universities, school boards and hospitals. Many of those workplaces have them now.

The unions came forward with that. Management helped make it come to fruition, and there was also incredible support from many municipalities who have played a role and who have expanded on their own, out of municipal tax dollars, the provision of these programs which really should be at the provincial and federal level, which we’re achieving now. I pay tribute to all those people who were the early leaders in that situation.

There also are so many organizations to say thank you to for the work that they have done continuously for so many years. I read the submission from Dr. Gordon Cleveland, who is now a retired associate professor of the University of Toronto, a specialist in the analysis of child care and base costs, and he and his team are the ones that came up with the statistics you might remember from years ago, that every dollar invested into child care saves $7 — that was back then; it’s more now — in terms of costs of social services, supports for families in poverty, a whole range of things.

He, by the way, back in the 1980s, I think it was, was the key adviser on child care to prime minister Brian Mulroney. So let’s not think that this is a partisan approach. We may have differences of how to deliver it, right? That’s fair enough. That’s about implementation. But I believe every senator here, and to a certain degree, other than other reasons to perhaps oppose it in the House of Commons, every one of us wants the best for kids and the best education, and we recognize that. I’m looking at Senator Seidman because I’ve listened to many of her speeches. We recognize what these investments will mean and how important they are.

To all of you from Quebec, I thank you for the leadership that you and your province have shown over the years, because we have been lobbying to follow Quebec for many, many years.

Organizations like the Ontario Nonprofit Network — I think of the YWCA and the years that they have invested in trying to bring about these improvements. Campaign 2000, Martha Friendly — there are so many people, like former lieutenant governor Margaret Norrie McCain. She, through her time in leadership that continued over all of these years, has continued to invest and support and lend her voice to getting to where we are today, so I am thrilled about that.

I don’t want to take long. We’ve got a lot to do tonight, but let me say this is a historic moment for this country. It is a historic moment for all of us as legislators to be here and to participate in this, and it is a historic moment — forgive me for personalizing this — for me personally because I have been working on this issue since at least the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Now, looking at that, in 1981 we started the process of writing this report. We consulted all across the province. In 1986 we issued our report. We wanted this done by 1990. It’s now 2023, so it’s 33 years later. Let’s pass it, make it law and make a difference for the kids in this country. Thank you very much.

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Senator Rebecca Patterson has a question. Senator Lankin, would you take a question?

Hon. Rebecca Patterson [ - ]

Senator Lankin, I support this bill 100%. What I do want to do is talk about a very distinct and unique intersection of children in Canada, and they are the children of military members. As you know, military bases are federal territory within provincial jurisdiction. Very often, provinces don’t like going on to federal land in order to provide services, and it’s an afterthought.

We also know from repeated studies that we are actually impacting the ability of jets to fly in Cold Lake and ships to sail in Halifax because parents can’t find child care for their families. In all the research that you’ve done, and since you have such an extensive background in this, even though children are the jurisdiction of the provinces, have you seen anywhere in anything that you have read that there will be an acknowledgement of very distinct groups?

While I am not from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I would suggest that RCMP families, where they are often dual‑service couples, also struggle with this, and it directly impacts first responders. Have you seen anything?

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Senator Lankin, your time for debate has expired. Are you asking for time to answer the question?

Senator Lankin [ - ]

Just this question, yes.

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Is leave granted, senators?

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

I hear a “no.”

Senator Cardozo [ - ]

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I just want to take a few minutes in much the same vein as Senator Lankin. There are a few people I would like to pay homage to today. This has been a process that has been going on for — my math is not very good, but 55 or 60 years. I want to start by mentioning the late Honourable Monique Bégin, who passed away just a few weeks ago. She was the secretary of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, which was the first royal commission that recommended a national child care program. It’s taken us a long time to get there, but we are almost there.

I would also salute the Honourable Margaret McCain, former lieutenant governor of New Brunswick and head of the McCain Family Foundation. Some of the other individuals who appeared before us include people from the McCain Family Foundation, as well as Martha Friendly from the Childcare Resource and Research Unit and Morna Ballantyne, executive director of the child care organization called Child Care Now, and, of course, as Senator Lankin mentioned, Pauline Marois, who was the minister of education and brought in the first $5-a-day child care program in Canada that we have now followed throughout the country.

Kudos to all these women who have worked on this for a long time, and it’s really to their credit that we now have a national child care program. Thank you.

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [ - ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-35, An Act respecting early learning and child care in Canada, as the official critic. I wish to also extend my gratitude to Senator Moodie, the sponsor of this bill, and to all senators who contributed to the debate in the chamber and at committee.

Let me begin by re-emphasizing the importance and need for early learning and child care for every child and family.

At the time of our need for child care, my husband and I were fortunate to be able to live with my parents, who provided child care to our daughter as we both worked as full-time teachers. My mother even timed her early retirement with my return to work after my maternity leave ended and our daughter was 14 months old. Under their loving care for more than a decade, our daughter enjoyed home-cooked meals; learned to understand, speak and read Korean, my heritage language; and enjoyed a range of experiences that all became a part of the foundation of her character, values and distinct identity.

While I support Bill C-35 in principle, I want to reiterate some of my concerns, along with the recommendations and compelling testimonies heard during the study of the bill at the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Bill C-35 is set to legislate key principles, primarily from the Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework. Importantly, it acknowledges the Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework as a fundamental aspect for funding guidelines.

The Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework, which is a collaborative creation between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples, is a cornerstone of this legislation. It articulates principles that are essential for realizing a vision where all First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and families are empowered by an early learning and child care system that is not only comprehensive and coordinated but also deeply embedded in Indigenous knowledge, cultures and languages.

The need for this coordination was highlighted by the testimony of Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. His insights underscored the critical importance of respecting and integrating the unique practices and teaching forms of Indigenous communities. Mr. Obed’s testimony illustrated how these distinct cultural practices are not merely educational methods but are integral to the preservation and continuation of Indigenous heritage and identity.

I want to highlight my support for the proposed amendment put forward by Senator Cormier, which we adopted, that ensures commitment from the Canadian government to sustain long-term funding for early learning and child care programs, including those for Indigenous peoples and official language minority communities, primarily through agreements with provincial governments and Indigenous governing bodies.

As my colleague Senator Poirier aptly noted, our commitment to linguistic minorities is not just about funding; it’s about working together to ensure that, by the time of the next negotiations, we can enhance support for francophones and Indigenous communities to live and thrive in their chosen language and culture.

It’s important to note that this amendment does not seek additional funding or detract from Indigenous peoples’ rights. Instead, it aims to bring us closer to the reality and respect for linguistic minorities.

Senator Moncion highlighted the necessity of an effective funding mechanism in this amendment. It underscores the importance of agreements with provincial governments and Indigenous entities, ensuring that the funding for early learning and child care services, including for official language minority communities, is allocated effectively and respectfully. This approach respects the unique relationship between Indigenous governing bodies and the federal government while also catering to the needs of official language minority communities.

Yesterday was Senator Kingston’s first speech in the Senate Chamber, and through her support for this amendment, she echoed our collective goal in this chamber to give voice to equity-seeking groups, ensuring that our approach to early learning and child care is inclusive and equitable. Therefore, as we consider Bill C-35, it is imperative to ensure that the legislation not only acknowledges but actively respects and incorporates these individual practices and forms of teachings. Such an approach is vital for honouring the diverse cultures and languages of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and families.

As I mentioned in my second-reading speech, it is crucial for the frameworks to be flexible in responding to the different regional and cultural needs of all Canadians from coast to coast to coast. In Canada’s history, we have seen the complexities of national frameworks and their implications for diverse communities, which emphasizes the need to turn our attention to the pressing challenges of demand and limited availability of early childhood educators.

This was further underscored by the briefings of the Canadian Federation of University Women to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. They focused on the critical issue of retaining early childhood educators, ECEs. Their recommendation for a national strategy on recruiting and retaining ECEs is a call to action that we cannot afford to ignore. This strategy is not just about ensuring quality care; it’s about supporting the backbone of the child care system: the educators, predominantly women, who dedicate their lives to nurturing our future generations.

While we’ve seen a decline in the ECE workforce across the country, we must acknowledge that this decline not only stresses the obstacles in fulfilling the need for more skilled personnel but also emphasizes the critical need to value and support our educators.

As highlighted in my second-reading speech, a fundamental aspect of Bill C-35 is the role of parents in their child’s upbringing. Parents serve as the cornerstone of emotional nurturing and attachment for a child. The deep connection established in the early stages of life profoundly influences the child’s emotional stability and overall well-being.

It is through parents that children first learn vital social and ethical principles. By exemplifying behaviours, imparting empathy and establishing limits, parents are instrumental in shaping their children’s ethical compass. These initial teachings are the foundation upon which children build their future interpersonal bonds and ethical choices.

In Bill C-35, the introduction of mandatory conditions for child care centres to be eligible to opt in for the government program remains a concern to me. I question how these conditions would cater to the rich diversity of beliefs and values that Canadian families hold dear. The Family Program Director of Cardus presented a compelling brief to the Social Affairs Committee, echoing the sentiments I initially expressed regarding the government’s preferred form of childcare. Cardus states that the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Plan is inherently unfair, focusing solely on the government’s preferred form of care, thereby neglecting the diversity of Canadian families.

Their assertion that funding parents directly would ensure fairness and offer families the flexibility to meet their unique requirements is a perspective that resonates deeply with our ongoing discourse.

In her briefing to the Social Affairs Committee, Beverley Smith presented a critical analysis of the child care system in Canada, particularly addressing the shortcomings of the proposed legislation in meeting the diverse needs of all Canadian families. Her briefing challenges the prevailing focus on institutional daycare, advocating for a broader understanding of child care that encompasses the ways families choose to raise their children, including at-home care and care by relatives. There were recommendations that emphasize the need to recognize and support parents as their children’s primary caregivers, whose roles are often undervalued in policy discussions.

Beverley Smith illustrated the disconnect between government subsidies for daycare and the lack of direct funding for parents who choose to care for their children at home, arguing that such policies may unintentionally discriminate against families that prefer non-institutional care settings.

The recommendations related to parental rights in this bill are calls to action for policy-makers to consider the full spectrum of child care preferences across Canada. We must support and respect all children, regardless of whether they are in daycare or cared for at home. We must respect the cultural, social and personal preferences of families in ensuring that all children have equal access to resources that support their unique development.

Bill C-35 favours public and non-profit child care providers. As I highlighted previously and now supported with witness testimonies, favouring public and non-profit child care providers potentially marginalizes the pivotal role played by private operators in the child care system.

Cardus called for a strengthened commitment to flexible care options, supporting all forms of care and eschewing preferential treatment of public and non-profit providers.

A brief from the Child Care Providers Resource Network has also been instrumental in highlighting challenges in child care. They draw attention to the labour shortages in the child care sector and the need for arrangements that cater to families requiring flexible hours beyond the traditional nine-to-five model. This insight echoes the concerns I raised in my initial speech, emphasizing the necessity of a child care system that adapts to the evolving dynamics of modern family life.

On December 5, 2023, Statistics Canada released the results of the Canadian Survey on Early Learning and Child Care and the 2023 Survey on Early Learning and Child Care Arrangements. The Child care arrangements, 2023, report provides insights on how child care use has evolved since 2019. The report found that a higher proportion of parents report difficulty finding child care in 2023.

The proportion of parents who used child care and who reported having difficulty finding it increased from 36% in 2019 to 49% in 2023. Difficulty finding available child care remained the top challenge for parents, and the proportion of those reporting this difficulty increased from 53% in 2019 to 62% in 2023. Finding affordable care also remained a common concern among parents, but the proportion of those reporting this declined from 48% in 2019 to 41% in 2023.

Difficulties in finding child care often resulted in negative impacts on the working life of families. For example, in 2023, similar to other years, the top impacts among these parents were having to change their work or study schedules, 34%; having to work fewer hours, 33%; or postponing a return to work, 31%.

On the question of the role private child care providers have, it’s important to note that for families with specific cultural or religious preferences, those providers can offer programs that align with these values and traditions, creating a culturally sensitive and nurturing environment. My colleague Member of Parliament Michelle Ferreri in the other place and myself have been firm on the importance of the role of private child care providers.

MP Ferreri put forward an amendment highlighting and emphasizing the need for Bill C-35 to allow for all types of child care providers — from traditional daycare centres to before- and after-school care centres — who meet or exceed the standards to be included in the system. In a country as vast as Canada, with 10 provinces and 3 territories, from rural to urban, with Indigenous communities, minority linguistic communities and all the wonderful cultures we have from coast to coast to coast, there is not a one-size-fits-all.

Quality daycare must be more affordable, but it cannot be done on the backs of private daycare providers, because at the end of the day, we must ensure parents have options to answer all the various priorities parents have for their child’s upbringing.

As I mentioned in my second-reading speech, the complexities of a national framework and the implications it will have for diverse communities, coupled with the pressing challenges of demand and limited availability of early childhood educators, must be considered carefully in Bill C-35. Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer has estimated that demand for child care spaces will outpace the current expansion plans by a staggering 220,000 spaces by 2026, and that is just for one province.

This looming gap in availability is further exacerbated by a concerning decline in the workforce. Among early childhood educators who resigned their position in Ontario, the majority sought other employment outside of licensed child care.

We must therefore ask ourselves: Does Bill C-35 address the critical questions on how we adequately compensate a profession that historically receives lower wages compared to their counterparts in the K-12 system? How do we fix inadequate training and encourage professional development to ensure that individuals stay in the profession? It is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Honourable senators, upon my examination of Bill C-35 and through the compelling witness testimonies and briefings, it becomes evident that despite the government’s admirable goal to create a national child care framework, there are some issues that remain in question.

While Bill C-35 is a step in the right direction, we must ensure that its implementation fosters an inclusive, equitable and diverse child care system that honours the wishes of all Canadian families and respects the cultural and personal choices that they make for their child’s upbringing.

As we move forward, let us affirm our commitment to these principles, ensuring that Bill C-35 not only creates a framework for early learning and child care but also upholds the values and rights that are central to the well-being and identity of our children and families.

Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Are senators ready for the question?

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and bill, as amended, read third time and passed.)

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