The Daycare Lobby's Misogyny

The International Monetary Fund recently wrote of coercing Canadian mothers into the workforce. Dr. Chris Sarlo reflected on economic implications here

. Today we learn how Canadian academics and lobbyists have long been making precisely the same wrongheaded point.

Does anyone remember “women’s liberation?” It was a movement that called for respect for women’s choices. It’s been replaced by “gender equity.” If a recent International Monetary Fund report is any indication, this un-sexed term appears to mean this: Do what the suits want, girls. Like the song says: “Get a haircut and get a real job, clean your act up and don’t be a slob.”

In a recent report, the International Monetary Fund advises the Canadian federal government that spending $8 billion on daycare would pay for itself, if 150,000 highly educated Canadian mothers would only put their kids in daycare, get high-paying jobs, and pay $8 billion in taxes to cover the costs of said daycare program. Despite all their schooling, these refusniks insist on “staying at home.”

Has anyone ever met a mother who stays at home and does no work? Me neither.

For the International Monetary Fund, and other local and international promoters of preferential government funding for institutional daycare, “gender equity” means mothers must be prodded into choosing full-time jobs. This is how the program is paid for. This means we must be incentivized (read bribed) away from choosing to care for our own children.

The problem of women’s choices has long plagued the daycare lobby. Behind the public rants about the “crisis” in daycare supply, the leaders are aware that the hard evidence—low enrolment, low preference, and high vacancies—shows a shortage of demand. The real crisis is women.

Two leading voices in Canada's daycare lobby are Martha Friendly, founder of the Child Care Resource and Research Unit (CRRU), and Paul Kershaw, UBC sociology professor and head of Generation Squeeze, a lobby group funded by UBC. The choice problem was addressed in a paper written by Kershaw for Friendly's CRRU. He objects to governments "where policy makers invoke ‘free choice’ to promote tax deductions or care allowances for mothers who reduce their paid workload rather than expand the budget for licensed, non-parental child care."1

Kershaw insists he is a feminist, but forget liberation; he calls for the “just commodification of women.”2 He writes against choice because the “’choice in child care’ discourse in Canada obscures the extent to which individual choices are socially embedded,” unless of course we choose his choice: “the labour market full time.”3 The fix? A "neo-liberal" approach which "utilizes the state's coercive power for the purposes of altering citizenry decisions."4

With feminists like this, who needs patriarchy?

Let’s be very clear. Coercing us to do what we do not prefer shows disdain for women. Academic and state-sponsored coercion of women has the trickle down effect of legitimizing dismissal of our wills.

“Behind the public rants about the “crisis” in daycare supply, the leaders are aware that the hard evidence - low enrolment, low preference, and high vacancies - shows a shortage of demand. The real crisis is women.”

In the dystopian fantasy of the IMF and other supporters of institutional daycare these mothers—in fact all mothers—must become full-time GDP fodder. We need to let staff raise our kids, increase labour supply, buy more stuff, and pay more taxes.

The reality is that if us mums get with the program, there will also be lower real wages5, more sick kids and parents6, worse parent-child relationships, and more stress for families7. And more opportunities to make money in daycare serving industries, bureaucracies, and treatments to deal with the harm done to children by institutional daycare. Hint: buy Ritalin and antibiotic stocks.

Did you know that in 1999 the federal Liberal government wisely called for state neutrality on child care choices? The Sub-committee on Tax Equity for Families with Dependent Children8 affirmed these five principles:

  • Our policy should be child centred and promote the best interest of the child to the greatest extent possible.
  • Our policy should presume that parents are the primary caregivers and that they are in the best position to determine what constitutes the best possible care arrangement for their children.
  • Our policy should provide flexibility, options and choices which will make it feasible for either parent to be the caregiver or to be in the paid workforce.
  • Our policy should be inclusive and responsive to the social realities, circumstances and preferences of parents and their children. Specifically, it should be sensitive to the situation of lone parents, stay-at-home parents, those with disabled children, the self-employed, students with children and those on social assistance.
  • Our policy should be fair and equitable and neither encourage nor penalize caregiving choices.

The Liberals got it right in 1999. They need to continue to give money to families and ensure they don’t coerce mothers into jobs today via preferential treatment for non-parental child care. After all, if not to nurture the ability to truly make choices, what was women’s liberation actually for?

Helen Ward is President, Kids First Parent Association of Canada and a low-income single mother.


1. Kershaw, Paul. 2004. "'Choice' discourse in BC child care: Distancing policy from research." Occasional Paper 19, Child Care Resource and research Unit, p. 3:
2. Kershaw, Paul. “The just commodification of women, equal care obligations for men, and autonomous households: Gendering the comparative analysis of welfare states in 20 OECD countries.” The Human Early Learning Partnership, UBC:
3. Kershaw, Paul. 2007. “Measuring Up: Family Benefits in British Columbia and Alberta in International Perspective.” Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy:
4. Kershaw, Paul. 2008. “Carefair: Gendering Citizenship ‘Neoliberal’ Style.” In Gendering the Nation-state: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives, edited by Yasmeen Abu-Laban, UBC Press.
5. The Economist. 1998, July 18. "Women and work: For better, for worse." London: Vol. 348, Issue 8077. P. S3.
6. Milligan, Kevin, Michael Baker and Jonathan Gruber. August 2008. "Universal childcare, maternal labor supply, and family well-being." Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 116, No. 4: 709-745.
7. Ibid.
8. Sub-committee on Tax Equity for Canadian Families with Dependent Children. June 1999. “For the Benefit of Our Children: 19th Report of the Standing Committee of Finance.”

Topics: Family, Daycare