Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Liberals should drive daycare improvements, not redo system, report says

The report’s authors say the money should focus first on expanding the supply of licensed child-care spaces

A new report is urging the Trudeau Liberals to embrace “aggressive incrementalism” on their promised path toward a national child-care system, arguing the government should quickly build on what’s already there rather than push wholesale change.

The paper from the C.D. Howe Institute suggests that trying to revamp how child care is delivered in Canada by moving responsibility to Ottawa from the provinces appears unlikely to succeed.

Provinces aren’t likely to agree to national standards, the authors write, pointing to recent federal efforts on child care.

The think-tank’s report says the federal government should bundle funding for child care into an annual transfer payment similar to one it already provides to help provinces cover the cost of health care.

The report’s authors say the money should focus first on expanding the supply of licensed child-care spaces.

The authors add that any federal moves need to be aimed at quickly building up child-care services nationally because the status quo is not sustainable.

The report is the latest in a series of arguments being put before the Trudeau Liberals on the road to next month’s budget, in which child care is expected to feature prominently.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has promised the budget will outline a plan for a national child-care system, modelled on the publicly funded program in Quebec.

Child care has been debated federally for decades, including the role Ottawa should play in an area of provincial jurisdiction.

Ken Boessenkool, one of the C.D. Howe report’s authors, said there is no need to shift jurisdictions, just have Ottawa help the country do more of what has worked and do it better.

“We’re saying we’re not on the wrong path, we just have to do more of what we’ve been doing and do it more quickly,” said Boessenkool, the J.W. McConnell Professor of Practice at the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University.

“And we don’t need to blow the system up to fix it.”

He said the federal government should pick a lane on what it wants to do on child care to drive the agenda, specifically focusing on funding the expansion of spaces where they are needed most.

A report this month from Deloitte Canada estimated the government could spend between $7 billion and $8 billion on child care, which would return between $1.50 and $5.80 for every dollar spent through a combination of new revenues and reduced spending on social supports.

The two reports argue the federal government is better placed financially than provinces to boost spending on child care because federal fiscal room should loosen if and when emergency COVID-19 spending subsides.

To help with household finances, Boessenkool and co-author Jennifer Robson, an associate professor of political management at Carleton University, say the government should make the federal child-care tax deduction refundable, meaning that eligible parents could get more money back from the government. At the moment, it is deemed non-refundable, so it can only lower amounts owed, not boost a tax refund.

The authors contend the change in tax treatment would help low-income families qualify for the deduction, and help middle-income families more easily afford daycare.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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