Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
1st Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 143, Issue 11
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker
Speech from the Throne
Motion for Address in Reply—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Champagne, P.C., seconded by the Honourable Senator Segal, for an Address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her Speech from the Throne at the Opening of the First Session of the Thirty-Ninth Parliament.—(8th day of resuming debate)
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, the Speech from the Throne offers a chance for the government to set out its priorities and plans for the coming session of government. The statement is read to parliamentarians by Her Excellency the Governor General to tell Parliamentarians what they should expect over the coming months — initiatives and priorities that we will be asked to discuss, support and ultimately approve or reject.
Even though the Speech from the Throne is steeped in parliamentary tradition, it is intended for the people of Canada, especially when it is the first time that a new government has the opportunity to speak to Canadians in that capacity. Canadians want to know not only what the government intends to do with the mandate it has been given but also to get a feel for how they will govern, the character of the government and the vision they hold for Canada. What will our Canada be? What will our quality of life be?
One particular area of concern in the Speech from the Throne, which has been pointed out by a number of honourable senators in this place, is the government’s plan for child care, or a plan for no-choice child care.
As a mother who has struggled with child care for my two children, and now a new grandmother of my grandson, Ayaan, and as a former President of the YWCA of Canada, I have great concern about this area of the throne speech. I will speak to honourable senators about the realities of caring for our children.
The Speech from the Throne and budgetary plan presented give me great concerns about the future of child care in Canada. When we talk about the care and development of our children, we must have a balanced approach that ensures individual choice and equality of opportunity for all Canadians. This can only be accomplished in the context of an integrated and responsive national program that ensures availability and quality of child care for all, regardless of their economic status. Overall, any national child care strategy must create a spirit of community in which new parents feel they have the support and choice they need to give their children the best start in life. Child care is not just daycare; it is the development of our children and the future of the Canadians who will help to support us. It is our responsibility to provide opportunities for early learning to prepare our children for the structured school system.
One of the first things we need to do as a country is get away from the idea that our child care policies should be about finding a place to deposit our children for the day until we have finished work. Parents will tell us that true child care is about child development that encompasses a holistic approach to developing a child’s social, emotional and intellectual needs.
Honourable senators, child care has many facets. It could be a family living on reserve; it could be a single mother working night shifts; it could be a family in Vancouver that needs two incomes to get by; or it could be a stay-at-home mother in Toronto who wants quality professional support to give her children the best start in life.
Many in this place have spoken about priorities. Obviously, the government has chosen its priorities, but it must remember that each of the 30 million people in this country will have their own priorities. While some may match those of the government, others will not. Canada is a complex country that demands complex, well-thought-out policies for all people, not just for a select few. In order to develop our future leaders, an integrated child care program needs to be the priority of the government as it is for Canadians.
Honourable senators, I have a permanent image, forever carved in my mind, of the Minister of Finance reading Budget 2006 in the other place. He received a standing ovation when he announced that the government would invest in creating more jail spaces and hiring of 1,000 more police officers. While public safety is important, I believe it is more important to ensure that every child in Canada has its best start. In this way, we may not need as many prison spaces in the future.
Honourable senators, we must invest in our children now, otherwise we will have to continue building more prison cells in the future. That is not the Canada that Canadians want. Therefore, it is tremendously important that our child care strategy includes an integrated early learning and child care program.
Many honourable senators have drawn attention to the findings of the recent YWCA study on early learning and child care. They have called on parliamentarians to stand up and protect what they call a “burgeoning national program.” I could not agree more. That is why I am dismayed by what has been laid out in the Speech from the Throne and Budget 2006 in the other place. What has been outlined is not a child care program; rather, it is a program that gives parents a small amount of money to continue to compete within the status quo.
The YWCA project revealed what parents are currently facing. They are struggling to find quality child care, often forced on to long waiting lists for spaces to become available or forced to seek child care well below the standards they want for their children.
Allow me to share with honourable senators some of the challenges that parents face. I believe they will help us identify the realities and challenges involved in caring for our children.
This is the story of one woman I spoke to recently in Toronto, in her own words:
I began my search for daycare in October 2005 when I was two months pregnant. One would assume this is sufficient notice to secure a spot in a daycare, but sadly it is not. I am on waiting lists at every daycare that I visited and some of these lists are 1.5 to 3 years long. I was told by one daycare supervisor that 80 per cent of the folks on the waiting list don’t get in.
My question back to her was why have a waiting list where each person has paid a “waiting list fee?” The big picture question is why is there a waiting list for every daycare that I’ve approached? Clearly the number of women who would like to or need to go back to work and the daycare spots are inversely proportional.
Unfortunately $1200 a year is not going to resolve this situation. I should have the option to go back to work and have quality child care available to me. Without a vacancy at a daycare, that option is being taken away from me.
Quality care is another issue. Why is there a gap between child care providers on food quality, educational programs and facilities? I’ve seen some fantastic places and then some not-so fantastic places. I will not send my daughter to a place where I question the type of care she is receiving.
But some families do not have this choice and that is really unfortunate.
Honourable senators, an integrated child care policy is about giving parents not only choice, but ensuring that they have options to make the choices they want. We have to strike a balance between the needs of individuals and a desire to have national standards that allow all Canadians to access quality early learning and child development programs.
The government’s policy does not strike a balance between the pressing needs of individuals and the need for national standards that will ensure all children have the best care. Instead, while we are claiming to offer parents choice, it takes away the options that parents want for their children.
Honourable senators, allowing the care of our children to be dictated by the fickle hand of the market will not ensure national standards and will not create the desperately needed spaces. Again, this does not give parents a choice. It takes choices away.
Honourable senators, I know that all of us here would agree that this is not how we want to raise our children. The YWCA, the second-largest provider of early learning and child care services in the country, recognized in their findings that it is the government’s responsibility to fund early learning and child care services. The YWCA called on us to enact legislation to ensure high-quality early learning and child care that is accessible to all, regardless of socio-economic status. None of this is before us today.
The YWCA has called for coherence in services, incentives to provinces and territories to encourage them to integrate their systems within a publicly funded, not-for-profit system. This is not before us today.
The YWCA recommended that governments at all levels focus on creating a coherent public policy — one that supports the development of qualified early learning and child care professionals. This is not before us today.
Instead, existing agreements with the provinces have been cast aside. In fact, nothing before us today seeks to create an integrated national child care program.
I would again like to share with senators a personal story; this time one that I believe helps to demonstrate the substantial impacts that the type of quality child care we should be pursuing can have for parents in this country.
Recently, a grade 7 teacher and mother of three shared her own story. She spoke not only of how important it has been for the development of her own children to have quality child care professionals helping her along the way, but also for how important it has been to her personally to continue to teach other Canadian children in her professional life. Unfortunately, this mother had to fight to ensure her children had access to the child care she wanted for them. She experienced Canada’s shortage of quality child care first hand, especially where her youngest son was concerned. She said:
In early fall 2001, we were number 60 on one child care centre’s list for September 2002 registration. How unbelievably hopeless we felt. At one point we went from spot 11 to spot 7 on one excellent centre’s list. I remember this was getting closer to crunch time. However, must have been what, March? April? We then found a centre which was geographically close to home in a lovely, serene setting with fabulous teachers on whose list we were placed third.
We had almost, but not quite, hit the jack pot. I remember visiting the centre. I was on my very, very, very best behaviour. I was so worried that I wouldn’t make a good impression. Given how often I called to remind them of my existence I am truly surprised that we were indeed fortunate enough to have garnered a space in their centre. And right from the start I knew it was going to be good. And it was.
The care my children received was fabulous. I really did like both of our sitters. But the care at the centre was different. The teachers were trained professionals. Not only did they have a wealth of knowledge about the developmental needs of my children, but they also had a wealth of experience in reassuring me each and every day that I was not a bad person for choosing an additional occupation to motherhood.
Regardless of my choice, there were days when tears would burn in my eyes as I left my babies, who themselves would sometimes be tearful — particularly my daughter who had been with me more than not. I would call the centre minutes after I began my drive to school only to find out that my child had stopped crying the minute I walked out the door and was happily playing on the computer with other “friends.” And when they heard the tears of guilt in my voice, those wonderful teachers would always validate my choice — they never made me feel I was shirking the responsibility of motherhood.
Honourable senators, these are the types of choices we should be facilitating for Canadian parents. Our child care deserves nothing but the best. From the continent from which I come, there is an African saying: It takes a village to raise a child. I believe that is the spirit we should encourage when we look to create a child care policy.
Parents are the most important people in a child’s life, but I know few Canadians who would like to face the challenge of parenting without the support of a caring community of friends and family. I know that I would not be standing here in front of you today if I had not had the support to raise my children without the help of a caring community of family and friends, and I know that my son and his wife will want to raise my grandson, Ayaan, with the help of a caring community of family and friends as well. I hope that they will be able to do so.
Honourable senators, my son and his wife are on a waiting list for a daycare.
Senator Stratton: How long?
Senator Jaffer: They put their name on a daycare waiting list one month —
The Hon. the Speaker: Perhaps if the honourable senator were to ask permission to continue, she might find consent in the house.
Senator Comeau: Five minutes, maximum.
Senator Robichaud: Ten minutes. It is a good speech!
Senator Jaffer: Honourable senators, my son and his wife are on a waiting list for a daycare space.
Senator Stratton: How long?
Senator Jaffer: They put their names on many daycare lists when my daughter-in-law was one month pregnant. She will need a space in May 2007 and has been told by eight daycare centres that her chances of getting a place are slim.
Canada is a large, global country. We are comprised of people of all generations and all origins. Our goals have become more diverse as well, and the lengths to which we go to achieve these goals have also grown. New parents must sometimes move to find the best jobs and they cannot always count on families to be close at hand when a child comes into this world. Therefore, parents must know that there is a spirit of community in child development. They need to feel that they have qualified and caring people who will support them. Parents must have access to these resources. Parents need to raise their children in a Canadian village.
A national child care strategy must take this into account. What we have before us today does not even come close. The plan that has been initiated in the Speech from the Throne does not strike a balance that meets the needs of individuals. It does not ensure access to intended spaces and support for parents throughout this country, and it does not offer an opportunity for the holistic development of our children.
The parents in the stories I have shared with you today will not have the options because of the plan that is before us today. As a Canadian and a recent grandmother, I appeal to our government to make the right choices and choose the right priorities for the sake our children, because we can either pay now or pay later by having more prison cells.
Build on agreements that have already been put in place and consensus that exists between various levels of government. We must have the courage to build an integrated child-care program that addresses the needs of individuals, creates quality spaces with strong integrated standards and builds a spirit of community in which our children are assured the best start they can possibly have.
Honourable senators, I have carved in my mind an image of when the Minister of Finance stood up and announced that there would be more prison cells. I watched as the Minister of Finance announced that he would be investing in hiring 1,000 police officers and building more jails. He received a standing ovation from his caucus. Honourable senators, I dream of a day when the Minister of Finance will announce not only a child-care program but an integrated early-learning and child development program. I believe that both sides in the House of Commons as well as those of us here in the Senate and parents across Canada will give him a standing ovation on that day, because that will contribute to building a healthy community for us all.
Honourable senators, we owe this to our children. They are not our loved ones; they are our future. They will continue to build our great country.
Hon. Jane Cordy: May I ask the honourable senator a question?
The Hon. the Speaker: There is one minute remaining in the allotted time.
Senator Cordy: I thank the honourable senator for her excellent speech. As a mother who worked outside the home, I identify strongly with the child-care issue. I agree that the so-called child-care program of this government is not a child-care program but a rejuvenation of the old family allowance program with which the Mulroney government did away, I assume, because it was not helping those who needed it.
The minister responsible for child care spoke about choices, as did the senator in her speech today. I can agree with choices for those who have good incomes. In that situation, one parent can choose to stay at home and $100 a month would be beneficial. However, what child-care choices are there for $100 a month before taxes —
The Hon. the Speaker: The extra time allotted has expired.