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Liberal minister presents bill aimed at protecting child-care system from future governments


The federal Liberal government has presented a new bill aimed at enshrining in law their commitment to the Canada-wide early learning and child-care system, and the long-term funding needed to maintain it.

On Thursday, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould tabled Bill C-35, otherwise known as the "Canada Early Learning and Child Care Act."

She said that the bill is needed to provide parents and premiers certainty that the federal government is dedicated to seeing affordable child care remain in place, and to ensure that the nationwide system being built can't easily be scrapped by a future federal government.

"In the last election, every Conservative member of Parliament ran on a promise to get rid of affordable child-care for Canadians. So, we know the threat to this transformational child-care initiative from federal Conservatives is very real. The government and Parliament must protect we have built," Gould said during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday.

The eleven-page bill seeks to cement the federal government's role beyond the existing five-year agreements now in place across the country, that will see daycare costs reduced to an average of $10-a-day by 2025-26.

"We want to ensure that these achievements are lasting. That is why we are acting to protect this crucial support for families and children," Gould said. "And that we make it that much harder for any future government to you know, basically take apart what we have built." 

Bringing in federal child-care legislation to shore-up the Canada-wide system was something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked Gould with doing on the heels of the Liberals bringing in a national affordable child-care plan.

As of March, legally-binding early learning and child-care bilateral agreements have been signed with all provinces and territories, and the country is on track to see daycare fees reduced by 50 per cent, on average, by the end of this year. 

Included in Bill C-35, the Liberals are looking to:

  • Protect elements such as creating more spaces that the provinces and territories agreed to through their funding agreements;
  • Enshrine the federal principles that are underpinning these deals such as access, affordability, inclusion and high-quality though these metrics aren't explicitly defined;
  • Require the minister responsible to report to the public on an annual basis on federal investments and progress made on the system; and
  • Establish the "National Advisory Council on Early Learning and Child Care" which is a recently announced 1-member council mandated to advise the government on issues facing the sector.

Officials from the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada, who briefed reporters on the details of the newly tabled legislation on a not-for-attribution basis, said Thursday the negotiated agreements that are unique to each province’s situation are—and will continue to be—core to the system. Gould described Bill C-35 as "complementary" to the deals, which will still need renegotiating down the line, a task that will bring political challenges for both levels of government.

One official described Bill C-35 as looking "beyond" the five-year deals and "toward future generations of children and families," while respecting provincial and Indigenous rights and jurisdictions.

One of the motivating factors in moving to put into law the federal government's vision of a national early learning and child-care system was the experience of a past Liberal government. In 2006, when Conservative Stephen Harper became prime minister, he quickly moved to tear up the agreements that previous Liberal prime minister Paul Martin had made across Canada.

The bill, while perceived as an attempt to future-proof the Liberals’ approach, has limitations. Future governments can still amend or repeal this legislation, for example. On this, Gould suggested that the procedural hurdle of having to move any changes through Parliament might act as a disincentive to try to go back to the drawing board on daycare.

"They'd have to demonstrate to Canadians why," Gould said." Conservatives wouldn't be able to hide this."  

Following through on tabling this legislation before the end of 2022 was a requirement under the Liberal-NDP supply-and-confidence agreement made earlier this year.

That deal — meant to keep the minority Liberals in power through to 2025 — saw the federal government vow to ensure that the child-care agreements "have long-term protected funding" and deliver "high quality, affordable" options for families.

In a statement on Thursday, the New Democrats sought to take credit for the bill, saying the NDP alongside child-care professionals, unions, and activists pressured the Liberals to "finally bring in this legislation."

Questioned on this, Gould pointed to the 2021 federal budget —which predates their deal with the NDP — earmarked $30 billion to be spent over five years on the national system, and another $9.2 billion to be spent annually each year following.

"This was always the Liberal government's plan, ensuring that we table this bill," Gould said, noting still, she is happy to have the NDP's support in seeing Bill C-35 move through Parliament.

Given the House of Commons is soon going to adjourn ahead of the holidays, it's unlikely the legislation will advance much before the new year.




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