Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on Thursday stressed the importance of childcare and early education, saying that the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has created a “window of political opportunity” to tackle Canada’s lack of a national childcare plan.
Freeland, who also serves as deputy prime minister of Canada, made the comments during a virtual conversation with former minister Ken Dryden at the Liberal’s policy convention Thursday. Their talk, which focused on childcare and early learning, hinted heavily at its inclusion in Freeland’s first federal budget as finance minister — which is expected to be delivered in just over a week.
“A lot of people who didn’t have to worry about early learning and childcare, now COVID has brought it into their lives and I think that creates a real opportunity for us,” she said.
“But I would add one more thing, and that is one of the consequences of COVID is to have brought the economic arguments to the fore.”
According to Freeland, Canada has seen an “incredibly dangerous drop” of women participating in the labour force during the coronavirus pandemic, and that the implementation of a childcare program would counter that drop and strengthen the economy.
Such a program would enable more women to keep working, create more jobs in early learning and childcare and give kids a head start in life, Freeland said of what she described as a “feminist policy.”
Freeland has previously spoken of plans to get women back into the workforce after the pandemic disproportionately devastated the involvement of women as daycares and schools shuttered during the spread of COVID-19.
The inclusion of childcare and early learning programs is expected to be a large part of a three-year stimulus package, worth between $70 billion and $100 billion, aimed at jumpstarting Canada’s economy after the pandemic. Freeland’s budget is slated to be released on April 19.
The federal government has already rolled out billions of dollars worth of pandemic spending on programs like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the Canada Recovery Benefit.
Critics and other government officials have since warned against heavy spending, with Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux previously estimating the federal deficit to be at around $382 billion as of late March. That deficit, according to Giroux, could very much soar to $400 billion as provinces begin to double down on public health restrictions amid the third wave of the pandemic, likely spurred by several variants of concern.
“I believe in it because it’s a feminist policy, but you know what? I am finance minister and I believe in it because it is a surefire way to drive jobs and economic growth,” said Freeland.
— With files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Amanda Connolly