In Canada, education and child care fall primarily within the jurisdiction of provinces and territories, although there is a long history of federal involvement both through transfers to individuals and to provincial and territorial governments. While the federal government has been an inconsistent player in early childhood policy, it has influenced provincial and territorial programs and priorities.
The 2004 Speech from the Throne announced that the federal government would work with the provinces to create a national system of early learning and child care. As a condition of $5-billion in funding over 5 years announced in the 2005 federal budget, provinces signed bi-lateral agreements-in-principle committing to develop detailed action plans that identified their spending priorities for early learning and child care. Plans were to address the four QUAD principles: quality, universality, accessibility and developmental programming. A federal election and a new government terminated this funding. In March 2007, the $5-billion commitment disappeared. Instead, $250 million a year was earmarked for a Community Child Care Investment Program and transferred to provincial and territorial governments. A 25 percent tax credit was made available to businesses to create licensed child care spaces in the workplace.1 The latter, as predicted, received very little take up.
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Despite its short tenure, QUAD left a legacy. Many provinces continued to develop and pursue their action plans, even without federal funding. In fact, investments in early learning and care across Canada more than doubled from $3.5 billion in 2006 to $7.5 billion in 2011. By 2014, provinces and territories were spending $10.9-billion on early education and child care. Remnants of other federal/provincial efforts to develop a pan-Canadian approach to supporting young children and their families also remain.
The Early Childhood Development Initiative (ECDI) provides $500 million annually for programs to promote infant and maternal health, improve parenting and community supports and strengthen early learning and child care. The agreement was significant as it took a holistic view of early childhood as a process that begins in utero and continues to formal schooling. Most provinces focused their efforts on information and parenting resources, while scant amounts were targeted to early learning and care programs.
To address the deficiency in the ECDI, the 2003 Multilateral Framework Agreement on Early Learning and Child Care (MFA) provided $250 million annually exclusively for programs for preschool-aged children. Provinces and territories were to meet broad principles in their spending and agreed to enhance accessibility, quality, inclusion and parental choice. Unlike past agreements for child care, funding was not targeted to low-income families, and the concept of accountability was introduced. Both the ECDI and MFA had specific requirements for each jurisdiction to issue annual reports on their progress.a
The MFA and the QUAD coincided with the release of an assessment by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of Canada’s early education and care services. Together, they opened a public discussion that helped change policy-makers’ perceptions about child care. No longer was it primarily viewed as labour market support for low-income parents. The inclusion of early learning into the agreements’ names reflected an understanding of the need for environments that support children’s earliest development.
The requirement that provinces and territories develop plans promoting access and quality as a condition of funding was also a departure. Until then, most provinces/territories had limited their involvement to program licensing and assessing the eligibility of low-income working parents for subsidies. An opening was created for community planning, for support for the early childhood workforce and to establish curriculum and accountability frameworks.
The Child Care Spaces Initiative (CCSI) was developed to provide an incentive to employers to create workplace child care. The initiative again defined child care as a program primarily for working parents. By bypassing provincial/territorial governments, it undermined their newly-found role in early childhood service development. Following a report by a government-appointed committee pointing out the plan’s flaws, the funds were transferred to provincial and territorial governments.2
Funding from all the above initiatives has since been rolled into the Canada Social Transfer, a block transfer to provinces/territories. As a portion of all early education and care spending, it is a resource available to provincial and territorial governments for early childhood services.
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a. While Quebec receives funding, it is not a signatory to these agreements.
1. Department of Finance Canada. (2007). Aspire to a Stronger, Safer, Better Canada, The Budget Plan. March 19, 2007.
2. Human Resources and Social Development Canada. (2007). What we’ve heard: Summary of consultations on the Child Care Spaces Initiative.
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