Home | Media Coverage | National Daycare Program Builds Monopoly at Expense of Parents

National Daycare Program Builds Monopoly at Expense of Parents

This article originally ran in the National Post on February 20, 2024.

Alberta is embroiled in protest over the rollout of the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) plan. Ontario is seeing daycares leave the $10-a-day program. British Columbia is failing to meet space-creation targets and the list goes on. Now add a pinch of jurisdictional finger-pointing — the provinces looking to the federal government, and the federal government saying this is the provinces’ problem — and stir. No matter how you measure it, CWELCC is struggling.

To be fair, it is a provincial problem now. The provinces, under pressure, helped create the terms of each agreement after the federal government allocated about $30 billion for the program in 2021. But the terms are rotten. While each agreement is slightly different, at the core they’re bound to fail because they all assume that a child-care system can run effectively as a government monopoly. The activists, academics, bureaucrats and unions pushing for the new system are relentless in their demands for public care. In blessing not-for-profit or public care over all the other kinds (parents, extended family, unlicensed care, etc.) governments are putting intense pressure on the very spaces they favour, artificially inflating demand by charging less. Then, they express amazement at the growth in demand as proof of popularity.

The end goal is not parental choice or reduced fees, but a government monopoly on child care.

There are countless examples of this goal in writing. An especially influential 2009 report by the late Charles Pascal pitched child care as a “seamless” part of public education and kicked off full-day kindergarten in Ontario.

“Seamless care” may sound good — parents dropping off older and younger kids at the same place. But the bigger problem is that children at widely different ages and developmental stages need different things. Parents know babies need different care than elementary students. Parents seek specific things in care for younger kids, namely that it should closely resemble home, according to polls over the years.

In fact, about 40 per cent of children under six across Canada are at home with their parents today. This isn’t a policy failure; it’s what many parents want. A system that doesn’t support these different options has not put parents (or kids) at the centre.

Let’s also drop the myth of public care being better quality across the board. These are difficult things to measure. But where the contrast between family and non-family care has been tried, centres come in last. This was the result of one major 2007 study out of the United States.

“The highest level of positive caregiving was provided by in-home caregivers, including fathers and grandparents, caring for only one child, closely followed by home-based arrangements with relatively few children per adult,” it found. “The least positive caregiving was found in centre-based care with higher ratios of children to adults.”

Often, we hear that the market (or private care) did not and cannot provide child care. If that’s true it’s hard to know when that began. Municipal, provincial and federal governments have lavished child care with cash for decades. Applying for government grants is a normal part of running a daycare today; the 2021 CWELCC was simply the last and largest one to arrive.

Actually, neither governments nor markets are the right place for child care. That’s just simple subsidiarity — a fancy term meaning that the closest entity should provide a particular service. Going to the government for child care is a little like towing your car to the manufacturer in Oshawa when it’s broken — it’s costly and inconvenient. In child care then, the person closest to the situation should be involved. That is generally a parent. This is not to say that parents must always provide daily care. Across Canada, about 56 per cent of children under age six are in non-parental care. But parents need maximum control over care choices, and designated spaces don’t provide this. Access to money does.

Governments and activists have been chiselling away for years at the ecosystem of care: parents, extended families, neighbours, babysitters, unlicensed and licensed home daycares and licensed centre-based care. By design, CWELCC is the sledgehammer to that ecosystem. That hammering you hear is the sound of a monopoly under construction.

The problems of cost control frameworks, rising inflation and inability to pay for supplies or food are side issues. Simply put, if markets cannot provide adequate child care, neither can governments when they fail to neutrally fund it.

So, provincial governments need to re-centre CWELCC agreements on parents and families by funding multiple options neutrally. This, more than anything else, will help turn failure into success.

  • Andrea Mrozek is a senior fellow with Cardus Family. Want to stay in the loop about the work of Cardus Family? Subscribe to the Cardus Family newsletter here.

February 20, 2024

National post logo

Canada's $30-billion daycare program takes a sledgehammer to the diverse network of care families previously enjoyed.