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The empty toddler room at Compass Early Learning & Care centre in Bowmanville, Ont., on June 24, 2020.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

The Liberal government is proposing new investments in child care, including temporary support for low- and middle-income families in an economic statement that emphasizes the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women.

The budgetary measures tabled on Monday said the government will take steps to establish a Canada-wide child care system, but that the plan to provide “affordable, accessible, inclusive and high-quality child care” won’t be revealed until the 2021 budget. It also promises to create a task force aimed at helping women whose jobs have been affected by the pandemic get back to work.

Ottawa proposes to spend $20-million over five years to develop the new child care system, beginning in 2021, with $4.3-million each year after that for a federal secretariat on early learning and child care to map out the plan. It also promises to spend $70-million over five years, starting in 2021, and $15-million ongoing, to maintain funding for the Indigenous early-learning and child care secretariat and to help support Indigenous participation in the development of the new child care system.

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Liberals plan $100-billion in new stimulus spending, begin plotting pandemic recovery

During the pandemic, options for child care have been limited, forcing parents to juggle work or quit their jobs to look after their children at home, the document said. Even before the pandemic, access to affordable child care was challenging, it continued, but it has become “nearly unattainable.” Women’s participation in the work force, it said, has been reduced to its lowest level in three decades.

In her speech to Members of Parliament, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said that, to provide immediate relief for people with young children, the government proposes temporary additional support totalling up to $1,200 in 2021 for each child under the age of 6 for low- and middle-income families who are entitled to the Canada Child Benefit (CCB).

The document said this would be an increase of almost 20 per cent over the maximum annual payment, and would be automatically delivered to those entitled to the CCB with net income at or below $120,000 as four tax-free payments of $300, with the first made shortly after legislation to set up the measures is passed, and ensuing payments in April, July and October. Families entitled to the CCB with net income above $120,000 would get payments of $150, for a total benefit of $600, the update said.

The government estimates this would help about 1.6 million families and about 2.1 million children, costing about $2.4-billion in 2021.

Ms. Freeland said COVID-19 is rolling back many gains Canadian women have made in her lifetime, adding that the update’s “feminist agenda” makes business sense.

“I say this both as a working mother, and as a finance minister: Canada will not be truly competitive until all Canadian women have access to the affordable child care we need to support our participation in our country’s work force.”

The fiscal update includes spending on early childhood educators, saying that recruiting and retaining these workers is challenging because they often earn low wages and have little job protection. Ottawa would spend $420-million in 2021-22 to help provinces and territories support this sector. An extra $75-million over the same time period would go toward improving the quality and accessibility of Indigenous child care programs.

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Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he is glad the Liberals took the proposal to increase the CCB from his leadership platform because “this was a concrete plan to help families, and especially moms, who need it the most.” He added that Canadians need more.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the investments are “paltry” and that $2-billion is required just to maintain existing child care spaces. He questioned the purpose of a task force aimed at getting women back to work when the solution is affordable child care.

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