Open Letter to the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin,
Prime Minister of Canada
January 26, 2005
Dear Prime Minister,
I write to you now as you make final preparations for the federal budget and the February 11th meeting with provincial ministers, both of which are crucial in realizing your government’s promise of a national system of early learning and child care in Canada.
The timing of these events provides you with an ideal opportunity to offer what, up until now, has been lacking when it comes to child care in this country: Money and political will.
Your government’s commitment of $5 billion over five years is an important investment towards turning our current patchwork of programs into an integrated and effective system of child care and early learning. Two million Canadian children under the age of six will begin to benefit if you ensure that the money flows early this year.
The more than 650 passionate and pragmatic child care workers, advocates and policy-makers who attended the CCSD’s recent “Child Care for a Change” conference also eagerly await the fulfillment of your pledge to “accelerate the building a national system.” They enthusiastically supported the principles of quality, universality, accessibility and development. They also want to ensure that every dollar is spent on the development of a high-quality service in a publicly funded not-for-profit system.
At our conference, Social Development Minister Ken Dryden gave an inspiring opening address and energized participants by attending several sessions. He has, in the months since the announcement of new moneys for a child care system, revealed himself to be a true champion for child care. Now we are looking to both of you to provide the unifying vision and sustained support which will make quality, affordable child care a reality across Canada.
As you know, a recent OECD study gave Canada low grades on its child care ‘system.’ When it comes to our youngest citizens, Canada clearly lags behind other countries. That finding came as no surprise to the people gathered in Winnipeg. Study after study has shown that a comprehensive national system of child care and early learning would help address the problem of child poverty that has plagued our country for too long. It would even provide a tremendous return on our investment by saving two dollars in future costs for every dollar spent now. Despite the abundant evidence, however, Canada seems to be stuck in a status quo that is wasteful and damaging.
Prime Minister, the federal government now has a golden opportunity to provide that unifying vision and support that can finally get us ‘unstuck.’
In a report published just last month, the Federal Standing Committee on Finance urged all levels of government to work together to fund and deliver initiatives that will meet the needs of children. The Committee called for a “national, accessible, affordable, high-quality, publicly funded, publicly regulated, not-for-profit child care system.” Canadians expect this kind of co-ordinated effort for our children – and they deserve no less.
We need not start from scratch. Several provinces, most notably Quebec, have made progress. Quebec has established a universal system with affordable and quality child care programs.
We urge you to build on that knowledge and work with all levels of government to:
- ensure that we move from the present patchwork of public and private services to a truly non-profit system. Studies have shown this form of child care to be superior in terms of its quality and accessibility, and it would protect the system against future challenges under the NAFTA agreement by commercial elements;
- ensure decent pay and professional training for early childhood educators across the country. Only then can we be confident that all children are given a quality head-start in life and that special needs are effectively accommodated;
- integrate childhood education into a broad family policy framework;
- ensure that Aboriginal populations are given ownership over the development of an early childhood education and care system which meets their cultural needs and priorities;
- ensure that the system is inclusive and open in order to address the diverse needs of Canada’s multicultural population and children with special needs;
- create a system of evaluation and accountability nationwide.
The development of a quality system of child care and early learning is an investment in our children, our families and our future. It is a vision that can transform our society, in the same way that the development of our public education and universal health care systems transformed Canada over the last century.
It is a legacy that Canadians are ready to build – with your help.
cc: The Honourable Ken Dryden, Minister of Social Development, Social Development Canada