Hamilton issues ‘demand’ to Ontario to sign on to Liberals’ National Childcare Strategy

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Published November 18, 2021 at 9:10 pm

Ward 1 Coun. Maureen WIlson. (City of Hamilton/YouTube)

On Thursday, Ward 1 City Councillor Maureen Wilson outlined why Hamilton, and cities across Canada, need cheaper childcare to deal with a coming worker shortage.

The City of Hamilton’s emergency and community services committee voted 4-0 (with three abstentions) to direct staff to look into partnering directly with the federal government on the National Childcare Strategy (NCS). Other Ontario municipalities, including Toronto and Niagara Region, have explored similar actions, since Ontario is one of only two provinces that has not signed on to the federal Liberals plan.

The NCS aims to cut daycare costs in half next year, and to $10 per day by 2026.

The motion, which was written by Wilson and sponsored by Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann, was amended to add a “demand that the Ontario government formalize an affordable, equitable, quality childcare agreement with the federal government as soon as possible.” Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who joined the meeting in order to keep a quorom, suggested the amendment.

Prior to the vote, Wilson said that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how the lack of affordable childcare is out of step with the profile of Hamilton and Canada’s economies. That has resulted in women, both mothers and grandmothers, being forced out of the labour market.

“I have been interested in childcare for too long, almost three decades,” Wilson said. “There is an alignment of the stars — why are we here, how did we get here?

“Every recession till now has been a He-cession — whether it’s a demand shock, or a financial shock, the first thing that stops has been goods rather than services … With COVID we were forced to shut down the service economy that was deemed non-essential. Women work the most here. But more than that, these are low-pay places of jobs, dominated by racialized women and new-immigrant women, and we lost two-thirds of those at the very beginning of the pandemic (in March 2020).

“Women have caught up in some measure, but there are still twice as many women out of the workforce as men. Some of had to drop out because the children of their adult children needed care and childcare was unaffordable.
The issue is really, how can we get them back?

“Another one of those stars is the power of demographics,” Wilson added. “Over the next couple of decades, we are going to be experiencing significant worker shortfall, that could undermine our economies and any competitive advantage we have in Canada and Ontario. So how how are we going to attract workers and increase and how are we going to increase and uphold women’s participation in the workplace? Because we are going to need every body.

“The answer is, we need to build an early childhood education and a care system that is grounded in quality, affordability, and accessability. Ontario has come of the highest childcare costs in the world, and this is a policy decision.”

Wilson pointed out that in the National Capital Region, a family in Ottawa might pay $1,000 per month for childcare. That same hypothetical family in neighbouring Gatineau, Que., would only pay $180. The Quebec government committed to $10/day childcare in the 1990s.

The percentage of mothers in Quebec with children age five and under who work also increased at a rate four times the national average between 1997 and 2016, she added.

“Every percentage increase in women’s participation increases Canada’s GDP (gross domestic product) by $1.85 billion,” Wilson said.

The motion was supported by Nann, Eisenberger, Ward 6 Coun. Tom Jackson and Ward 7 Coun. Esther Pauls, and will go to the full council for ratification. Couns. Brad Clark (Ward 9), Sam Merulla (4) and Terry Whitehead (14) were not present.

Eisenberger’s amendment also states that “city council strongly supports the federal government’s National Childcare Strategy.”

The NCS was part of the federal Liberals’ budget announcement on April 19. The Progressive Conservative provincial government, under Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce, has yet to submit a detailed action plan to federal Minister of Families Karina Gould.

Both Ford and Lecce have variously said the deal to be more flexible, or want Ontario to receive more than the allotted $10.2 billion under the five-year, $30-billion program.

Lecce also stated earlier this week that what is on the table “shortchanges families.”

‘Save $10,000 per year’

Jessica Chase, who is the City of Hamilton’s director of children’s services and neighbourhood development, said the average cost of care for one young child in Hamilton runs about $12,000.

“With the potential of the national childcare strategy, some families could save $10,000 per year, per child,” Chase said.

Chase added that the federal funding would also help with persistent staffing issues that have resulted in many operators having to turn families away.

“Many of our child-care centres are still not operating at their pre-pandemic levels. When we talk to our child-care operators across the city, they say their biggest challenge is recruiting and retaining high-quality early childhood educators.”

Today’s Family CEO Marni Flaherty also called the federal program a “game-changer” when it comes to reducing income inequality.

“This will level the playing field for families who are living in poverty, if they are either to pay 10 dollars a day, or have a full subsidy,” Flaherty said. “It will allow people to work, and stabilize and modernize the system, and allow people to work their full shifts in spaces in their neighbourhoods. This is a game-changer. I have been working in this sector for over 40 years, and it’s beyond time to do this.”

Whether a city the size of Hamilton could realistically partner directly with the federal government on childcare remains to be explored by city staff. But Eisenberger said municipalities have to pressure provinces to sign on.

“I want to strongly urge the province to get to the table and cement this down with our federal partners, to the benefit of our citizens in Hamilton and the province,”

“It is clearly the best way to give kids a good start, and get people back in the workforce.”

He noted that newly elected Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek spoke of direct talks on childcare with the feds almost immediately after being elected last month.

At the time, Alberta had not signed on, but it did on Monday.

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