The politics of daycare in Canada

Quebec is often seen as a daycare utopia to parents—so why haven't other Canadian provinces caught on yet?

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More than 90,000 kids were left stranded this past Monday after Quebec home daycare workers took part in a one-day strike.

The main issue at hand was money. Quebec home daycare providers are currently paid $12 per hour for a 35-hour week, but argue that they actually work closer to 50 hours a week.

Read more: The Canadian child care crisis>

Quebec is often seen as a daycare utopia to parents in other Canadian provinces who pay exorbitant fees and struggle to find a place to leave their children for the day. Quebec parents pay approximately $7 per day because the system is supported by the provincial government. This stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the country where fees can soar as high as $90 per day, and amounts to almost $24,000 annually—and that’s just the price tag for one child.

Daycare has become a political football lately, with politicians dangling promises in front of parents in order to win over the crucial “women’s vote.”

Read more: We need affordable child care for all—now>

Thomas Mulcair, leader of the federal NDP, is promising a nation-wide system that uses the Quebec model as a starting point. He proposes that parents pay $15 per day for child care and promises long-term financing that would open up a million more spaces. Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow said she would relieve the pressure by creating 3,000 more locations for stressed-out parents.

But all the political promises can’t change the anxiety and mounting costs that parents face on a daily basis. There are currently only enough licensed daycare spots for 22 percent of Canadian kids.

MoneySense writer Romana King investigated the issue in the hopes of solving her own daycare crisis. She interviewed some families who spent more than $600 in order to be placed on multiple daycare waiting lists—only to find that there weren’t any spots for their children. At all.

The MoneySense article suggests examining the costs to determine if staying home with your child is a better financial alternative to daycare (although a paycheque isn’t the only reason to return to work). Sometimes there are hidden costs in daycare—such as camp fees for school holidays, additional costs for lunch and early or late drop-off and pickups. King also suggests researching subsidies, which are available for many income levels.

Read more: Daycare subsidy woes: When the system lets you down>

An expensive daycare is not necessarily a better fit for your family than more affordable options. What makes a difference is a low caregiver-to-child ratio, developmentally appropriate books and toys, and engaged caregivers. These can be found in different types of situations, and it’s important to seek out a daycare that fits your values and is comfortable for you and your family. King recommends dropping by unannounced to potential daycares to see what is really going on in the rooms, and then to make note of your initial gut reaction.

Read more: 10 questions to ask when choosing a daycare>

However, researching options isn’t going to make daycare more affordable or even available. And the only way that the daycare issue is going to be resolved is when politicians stop talking about it and start actually doing something about it.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

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