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Comment: Tories are ignoring children and families

The federal government states its priorities are jobs and a strong economy, yet it ignores the best method to achieve both these goals.

The federal government states its priorities are jobs and a strong economy, yet it ignores the best method to achieve both these goals.

There is a way to dramatically increase employment and government revenue, grow GDP and pump money into local economies. The Conservative government of Canada is ignoring what experts and business leaders agree on — that investing in children’s early years provides the biggest bang for the taxpayers’ buck.

The evidence and research is undeniable. A 2009 Canadian study by the Centre for Spatial Economics reports that investing in child care has a bigger job-multiplier effect and more employment-per-dollar activity than any other sector.

In Quebec, a publicly funded child-care system made it possible for an additional 70,000 mothers of young children to enter the labour force. Their employment contributed an additional $5.2 billion to the Quebec economy and increased GDP by 1.7 per cent. The returns more than pay for the investment Quebec makes in child care. According to the C.D. Howe Institute, the Quebec model of a cost-shared, publicly funded child-care system increased immediate tax revenue to government by 40 per cent.

According to respected economist Robert Fairholm, child care creates strong economic stimulus, where every dollar invested in child care increases the economy’s output (GDP) by $2.02, one of the highest GDP impacts of all major sectors.

The World Bank published a major report in 2011 on the benefits of investing in the early years and stated a potential annual return rate of seven to 16 per cent, and proclaimed it to be a sound fiscal investment. The Economist magazine commissioned its own study, Starting Well: Benchmarking Early Education Across the World, and stated: “As countries increasingly compete on the basis of their talent and human capital, they need to invest in all their people as early in life as possible.”

The same report said: “The first is simply about ensuring that ECE [early childhood education] is on the policy radar and not overlooked in the battle for funding.”

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman found that investing in the early years promotes long-term success in education, raises the quality of the work force, raises income levels and reduces crime, teenage pregnancy, welfare dependency and health-care costs.

Why is our government ignoring these facts?

In 2012, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children Committee wrote a scathing review of Canada’s poor performance in meeting the basic rights of our children, citing the “high cost of child care, lack of available places, the absence of uniform training requirements for all child-care staff and of standards of quality care … despite the state party’s significant resources.”

Since the 2006 inception of the Universal Child Care Benefit (the federal government’s $100-a-month taxable payment to families) the program has cost Canadians $15 billion without creating one new child-care space for families, and with absolutely no accountability to taxpayers.

There is a severe lack of affordable, regulated child-care spaces, particularly for children under three years old. In a recently televised investigation of unlicensed child care, CBC’s Marketplace was able to document many examples of children left in illegal and unsafe arrangements. Clearly, too many Canadian parents have nothing but bad choices available to them.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development ranked Canada last of the 20 wealthiest countries for investment in the early years with a meagre 0.25 per cent of GDP. As the Conference Board of Canada recognizes in its February 2013 report on inequality in Canada, as other nations prosper and develop a more diverse tax base, Canada will head toward a nation of “have and have-nots.” As the leading economic nations of the world develop their populations as collaborative forces of highly skilled, knowledge-based labourers, Canada will be left behind as simply a natural-resource provider.

Investing in the early years is unquestionably the best economic strategy for a nation. The real question is: Why does the Harper government refuse to live up to its promise of job creation and a strong economy, by ignoring the children and tax-paying working parents of this country?


Marc Lalonde is the director of communications for the Early Childhood Educators of B.C. Sharon Gregson works with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. and is the director of child and family development services at Collingwood Neighbourhood House Society in East Vancouver.