When Chrystia Freeland revealed the Liberal government’s 2021 budget, which included an ambitious five-year plan for improving child care costs and access across the country, it was met with equal parts excitement and skepticism. After all, Canadians have heard this before, especially those of us who pay exorbitant daycare fees in cities like Toronto and Vancouver.
So when Today’s Parent senior editor Ariel Brewster chatted with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Instagram Live this week, she had some questions about how the $10/day child care plan could actually go down. During the chat, we also learned some fun things about life at Rideau Cottage with three kids doing remote learning—and the one printer that happens to be in Dad’s office. The PM also shared his summer plans and advice for how parents should proceed in such uncertain times. Here’s a recap.
Let’s talk about the timeline for the child care plan. My kids are three and six, so I have the sense that it’s too late for me. How does the five-year timeline work for people who are looking to expand their family in the next little while, or people who are pregnant now? How do we get there?
That’s always been one of the political conversations around child care, that by the time a government actually does something and invests in child care—because if you’re going to build up a quality system, it’s going to take a few years—that means the people who need it right now might have their kids in Grade 1 by the time this system comes. But that argument just doesn’t hold for me anymore because, first of all, we’ve seen from my home province, Quebec, what 25 years of good investments in child care has done, not just for families, not just for women in the workforce, but for the economy as well. So, as we look forward at this $30 billion, and $8 billion a year, ongoing into the future, that these deals will bring with the provinces, we also looked at what we can do right now. So, by the end of next year, we’re expecting that childcare costs will decrease by 50 percent right across the country. That’s what this money will get right now.
Does that mean on average?
That means on average. So, that’s what we’re working on, and that’s one of the things that we’re going to have to negotiate really strongly with the provinces on, because this is a lot of money the federal government’s putting forward, on things that the provinces will be delivering, because child care is much more a provincial and municipal responsibility. But we can put in there that this money needs to make sure that they’re reducing by 50 percent childcare costs on average across their province.
If we want to build a crappy system fast, you could probably get something up and running within a year or two. But, if we want to build a quality system that’s supporting early childhood educators, that’s giving proper choices—that gives affordable spaces but quality spaces as well—it’s going to take a little more time to do, and that’s why we’ve given ourselves these five years to work with provinces.
How do you actually create more spots in cities like Toronto, where wait lists are so long, and we don’t have the space for bigger daycares? And how do we encourage more ECEs to go into the business?
Well, in this budget, we put $420 million towards ECEs, towards early childhood educators: training, education, valuing. Part of our deals and bilateral deals with the provinces will include supports for early childhood educators as a career path: as a quality career that allows you to grow and raise a family yourself, with proper pay, because this is something that we need to value. So, that’s a piece of it. On the other side of it, yes, there’s a lack of spaces, but that’s not something that the federal government is going to be able to dictate. It’s something that we know municipal partners, community organizations, the provinces themselves, are going to be able to solve, and that’s what this money is going to be able to do.
And will the CCB (Canada Child Benefit) continue? Will we have the CCB and $10/day child care?
The CCB is there for good. The CCB—the hundreds of dollars tax-free a month for the kids—that’s just a part of supporting families. It was never meant to be a replacement for childcare. We always knew we had to do more on childcare, but this is for after-school programs, or for new shoes.
On top of that, we’re creating an early learning and childcare system right across the country. The provinces need to sign on. They need to agree to the parameters we’re setting up around quality, around affordability, around meaningful impact on people’s families. But, that money is there and we already know there’s a number of provinces very, very excited about moving forward quickly.
I wanted to ask you a bit about pandemic parenting and being a dad. I assume your kids are all home right now. School’s remote for them as well?
Actually, it’s really exciting, my daughter, who goes to school across the river in Quebec, just started up. Yesterday was her first day back in real class and she already wishes she was back home in virtual! It’s been a different experience. My little one, at seven years old, he’s found it sort of tough. As I walk from my office to the kitchen to grab a glass of water in the middle of the morning, he’ll be sitting at the dining room table with the little screen in front of him and it’s heartbreaking to see, in one sense, that he’s doing grade one like that. But, he also has a table full of Legos beside him and I know he’s doing that while he’s engaged in school. Kids are resilient. It’s tough and they’re all looking forward to getting back.
Who helps with the meltdowns?
We divide. If it’s a technical meltdown, I tend to do it more because Sophie is not exactly technical. I also have the printer in my office, so whenever they’re printing out worksheets, they’ll come in and they’ll tell me, ‘mute the call’ or whatever. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t, sometimes I force them to say ‘hi’ to the nice people I’m talking to. Listen, we’re lucky, because we do have the capacity to do that. I know a lot of families that have really been pressured.
I guess that’s a silver lining. With less travel, you’re home more, you get to see the kids more.
That has been something we have absolutely remarked on. I’m normally gone three to four days a week traveling across the country. I haven’t left home, or haven’t left Ottawa, in many, many months. A little bit to the office every now and then, but I’ve seen so much more of the kids, there has been a blessing there. But, I think we’re all looking forward to getting a little more normal of a summer anyway.
Parents are in this sort of “TBD” mode right now, where we don’t know about summer camp, we don’t know if we can see our grandparents—the whole one-dose situation. Parents don’t really know how to come up with a plan for child care for the summer. What would your advice be as we all wait for more guidance?
[There are] two things we need to see in order to have a much better summer. First of all, cases have to come down. We need to get the cases under control. Some parts of the country are doing great, others are still a little more challenged. We need those numbers to come down. […] And, we’ve all got to get vaccinated. If we can hit over 75 percent even with that first dose, it’s going to be a massive difference. And then, through the summer, people will be getting their second doses. We got 4.5 million doses of the vaccines in just this week, which means we’re making great progress in terms of that. I got my 12-year-old and my 13-year-old very excited that they can now get vaccinated, and they are excited about that as well. We’re moving in the right direction.
It’s going to mean a better summer; it’s going to mean a more outdoor summer. What that means for grandparents, I think, will be family decisions. What that means for summer camps will depend on jurisdictions. I know my kids are signed up for a couple of day camps that they’re optimistic are going to go forward. There’s one sleepover camp at the end of the summer that we’re hoping is going to be OK as well.
We just gotta all hang in there, and do our part, and know that those rules will loosen for everyone in a way that keeps us safe, because the last thing we want is to be dealing with a fourth wave. That means getting vaccinated and being smart about how we move forward.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.