Ottawa unveils new legislation to secure long-term role for feds in national child care

Click to play video: 'Federal legislation aims to fortify national child care'
Federal legislation aims to fortify national child care
WATCH: The federal government has introduced Bill C-35, which is aimed at securing long-term funding for national child care. Mackenzie Gray looks at what the legislation does and doesn't do, and the challenges some parents still face. – Dec 8, 2022

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Karina Gould introduced new legislation Thursday that will make it harder for any future government to cancel or cut off child-care funding.

The proposed legislation, known as Bill C-35, aims to enshrine into federal law access to affordable and inclusive child care and make sure that the government commits itself to long-term funding for provinces and Indigenous Peoples.

“The bill would enshrine in the legal framework of Canada access to affordable, inclusive and high-quality early learning and child care as an obligation to which the federal government must commit itself,” Gould told reporters at a press conference Thursday.

“It will … ensure federal funding for the Canada-wide system (that) remains in place beyond our current agreements with provinces, territories and Indigenous Peoples,” she said. “Simply put, this bill will ensure the system we build remains in place long into the future.”

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Click to play video: 'Karina Gould announces legislation to enshrine $10-a-day child-care program'
Karina Gould announces legislation to enshrine $10-a-day child-care program

This legislation would also prevent Conservatives from dismantling the system, Gould said, adding it would require them to “publicly tell Canadians they do not believe in affordable child care.”

“Conservatives wouldn’t be able to hide this.”

The Liberal government brought in a national child-care plan that would cut daycare fees by an average of 50 per cent by the end of this year — and down to an average of $10 per day by 2026.

The 2021 federal budget pledged $30 billion in new spending on the national child-care system over five years, with another $9.2 billion annually after that.

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Click to play video: 'Conservatives ‘wouldn’t be able to hide’ efforts to undo child-care agreements with new legislation: Gould'
Conservatives ‘wouldn’t be able to hide’ efforts to undo child-care agreements with new legislation: Gould

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has said in the past that his party, if elected, would abolish the existing child-care plan and replace it with a tax credit that goes directly to families.

The Liberal government of former prime minister Paul Martin signed child-care deals with the provinces with the goal of creating a national daycare system in 2005, but Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper cancelled the agreements after he came to power the next year.

If future governments wish to renege on the long-term commitments proposed in the bill, they would have to take the step of repealing or amending the legislation, Gould said.

“We want to protect what we have built,” Gould said.

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Government officials who provided a briefing on the condition they not be named said the bill was drafted to respect provincial and territorial jurisdiction and Indigenous rights. They said it does not impose conditions on other levels of government, which was the top concern of other governments during the consultation process.

Any accountability provisions would be part of the individual bilateral agreements signed with each province and territory, which will need to be renegotiated every five years.

The fact that fees have already been reduced will make it politically challenging for provinces to walk away from the program after this five-year term is up in 2026, Gould said.

“They would be leaving a lot of federal money on the table, but more importantly, they’d be leaving a lot of families in the lurch,” she said.

The Liberals had promised to introduce the legislation by the end of this year as part of the confidence-and-supply agreement, in which the New Democrats have agreed to support the minority government on key votes in the House of Commons to avoid triggering an election before 2025.

Click to play video: 'Gould ‘very confident’ all but 1 province will meet 50% child-care fee reduction'
Gould ‘very confident’ all but 1 province will meet 50% child-care fee reduction

That means the bill is all but certain to pass.

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If passed, the legislation would also require the minister to report annually to the public about federal funding contributions, child-care accessibility and affordability.

It also legislates the creation of a national advisory council on early learning and child care, which the government announced at the end of November.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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