Will $15 a day child care boost Canada’s economy?

Many parents across Metro Vancouver are paying the equivalent of a second mortgage for child care — if, that is, they can manage to snag a hard-to-come-by spot at a daycare

Many parents across Metro Vancouver are paying the equivalent of a second mortgage for child care — if, that is, they can manage to snag a hard-to-come-by spot at a daycare.

For several years, Anita Huberman has been arguing that a lack of affordable child care isn’t just a hardship for parents, it’s bad for business.

“It means that mothers are not able to come back to work … so businesses are losing A-list employees when we’re in the midst of a labour shortage,” said Huberman, the president and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT).

When parents don’t have stable child care or are worried about the quality of care, productivity is reduced and absenteeism increases, Huberman said.

SBOT was recently successful in getting the support of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to push for a national study of the issue that would inform future federal policies.

The federal NDP is promising to fund one million child care spots at $15 a day over eight years at an initial federal cost of $1.87 billion (the provinces would be “partners” in the program).

Since 2012, SBOT has joined other advocates in calling for a $10 a day child care program, similar to what is already in place in Quebec. While Huberman said SBOT would need to further study the NDP’s plan, she’s glad to see at least federal party tackling the issue.

“We’re asking the government of Canada to reprioritized their budget dollars and focus on domestic issues, which is our children … Economic and social issues are tied in together.”

Governments need to pay more attention to early childhood education, said Jock Finlayson, an economist and chief policy officer with the Business Council of BC. But he isn’t sure a universal system is the best way to improve outcomes.

“Arguably it is an area that warrants more resources,” Finlayson said. “My tendency would be to focus that on lower income families than to create some new universal entitlement.”

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is claiming that the $15 a day plan will benefit the economy overall by encouraging more women to reenter the workforce. But Canada already has a relatively high level of women in the workforce, Finlayson said.

“I’m not sure how much more upside there is in female labour force participation. There’s probably a little bit, but there’s not a huge amount of low-hanging fruit.”

Huberman said SBOT will be ramping up advocacy on this issue as the next federal election nears in the fall of 2015.

jstdenis@biv.com

@jenstden