Amanda Munday is the Founder of The Workaround, a co-working and flexible child-care space for parents in Toronto.
Jessica Weisz is an adviser and writes about businesses creating systemic change so more can win in the game of life.
It’s been an excruciating year for parents and the federal promise to spend $30-billion for child care is a collective relief valve. Creating a comprehensive child-care infrastructure will directly support children, women and Canada’s economic well-being.
The significant investment will increase access and lower costs for parents, among many other benefits. Now, the work begins to figure out exactly how to achieve this vision. As the federal government enters the bilateral negotiations with provinces and territories, there is one critical stipulation to include: Funding must provide for a diversity of care models that reflect how parents work.
Work, and subsequently child-care needs, have drastically changed in the past decade. We will only achieve an inclusive economy by building child care that accommodates when and how parents earn a living.
Currently, the predominant government-led model is full-time, weekday care delivered by non-profit centres or schools. The loudest child-care advocates are calling for more of the same. Their position is based on outdated notions that parents have homogenous child-care needs and non-profit child-care centres are the only way to meet quality standards.
Not everyone needs full-time, year round, weekday child care. We learned this as two parents failed by the traditional model, who then designed an alternative quality child-care model to work for our families and hundreds of other parents.
The public child-care model in its current form does not serve all working parents in our new economy. Canada has more than double the hourly wage workers it had 20 years ago, of which 34 per cent are between the ages of 25 and 54 and far more likely to be women, according to Statistics Canada. Temporary employment is rising faster than permanent jobs and women are most likely to be precariously employed.
How does a daycare closed on weekends help a parent working the Saturday night grocery shift? How does a full-year commitment help the freelancer who secures contract work for only months at a time? Failing to enable diverse care models essentially means only middle-class, full-time, permanently employed parents will benefit from a $10/day model.
Beyond what working parents need today, we have a rare opportunity to consider what parents will need decades from now and build a cohesive, agile, provincially led system. If we do not accommodate tomorrow’s work force, we are doomed to be stuck in a mindset of trying to fix problems as they arise – rather than designing systems in a way that address these challenges – not unlike our public health care system, which fails to address unanticipated needs, such as mental-health support and IVF funding.
There is no better moment for Canada to be a world leader in supporting women’s equality. To do so, follow the widely lauded gospel of economist Mariana Mazzucato, who argues market-based solutions can also deliver social goods and the government’s role is best suited to evolve from market fixer to market shaper. The federal government recognizes the need for quality child care and more spaces. Here are our recommendations of how to get there inclusively and effectively.
First, don’t shut out private child care. Most private daycares are women-led small businesses, often rural and suburban. Shed the notion that market-based solutions can’t deliver quality care. No one we know became a daycare provider to make millions. For-profit providers, including us, are driven by social purpose. Canadian economist Armine Yalnizyan acknowledges that Quebec’s public model achieved great results but struggled to provide enough spaces. Working with for-profit groups collaboratively can help more families, faster.
Second, take a page from Ms. Mazzucato’s playbook on how to reshape capitalism coming out of this pandemic and “ensure that partnerships with business involving government funds are driven by public interest, not profit.” Develop clear stipulations for accessing public funds, such as owner salary ceilings and quality conditions, similar to how recent money was deployed to help Air Canada.
Third, deliberately stimulate mission-driven innovation by rewarding ventures contributing to better childhood development, the earning potential of early childhood educators and inclusion of women in the work force. We need more drop-in centres for flex workers, like Bambini in Alberta. More 24/7 centres like Garderie RDP in Quebec, which serves night-shift nurses. While acknowledging our bias, we also want more child care and co-working spaces like ours at The Workaround. A mix of solutions that are full-time and part-time, home and centre-based, drop-in or overnight, happens by enabling private-sector creativity.
Every dollar spent in this budget is a vote for a progressive future Canada. As we move forward on this momentous aspiration toward gender equality, let’s not preclude how we go about addressing the universal child-care need. We’re on the right path by directing tax dollars to the emotional, mental and physical development of children under five. Next, let’s expand child-care models that adapt to the way Canadian parents earn money.
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