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Olivia Chow and Marc Laferriere speak to a crowded room in Brantford about the economic and social benefits of an affordable childcare strategy.

– Olivia Chow and Marc Laferriere speak to a crowded room in Brantford about the economic and social benefits of an affordable childcare strategy. (Photo by Photohouse Studio)

For some time now, I’ve been pushing for a National Childcare strategy for Canadian families like those in our riding.  Recently I was able to invite Olivia Chow to Brantford to discuss this model in detail and take questions from the public.

The event and the discussion was a rousing success.  If you weren’t able to make it here’s what you missed.

Basing our model on the wildly popular and fiscally sound Quebec model, we have promised to create over one million new spots in quality daycare centres across the country, and to provide standardized services to all parents at the affordable rate of 15 dollars a day.

For the millions of Canadian mothers and fathers currently spending upwards of 36 percent of their income to place their children in unregulated and often overcrowded facilities, this proposal is a lifeline.  For the rest of us, it represents a wise and lucrative investment in our shared future, a commitment to the kind of Canada that rewards hard work and helps to provide meaningful employment.

Those parents directly affected by the current childcare situation already understand just how tough things have become. They understand the frustration of camping out beside already full childcare institutions only to be placed on a waiting list of thousands, the pain of having to choose between raising a family and making a decent living for that family, and the anxiety of placing their children in sometimes substandard facilities due to a simple lack of options.

They understand the futility of spending the equivalent of four months pay on basic daycare services, the desperation of having little to no money to invest in their child’s future education, and the injustice of ending up in a black hole of rising tuition fees and housing costs after having done everything “right” for their entire adult lives.

What many of us don’t understand, however, is the significant burden this situation imposes on our economy, or the fact that the NDP’s proposed program will pay for itself by means of increased GDP growth and greater government savings by helping to get parents off of social assistance.

The current system provides too many disincentives to working:  Low wages and high child-care costs just don’t make financial sense for parents in the here and now.

By granting parents new opportunities to enter the workforce or obtain post-secondary training without losing almost half of their expected income in the process, affordable national childcare will add hundreds of thousands of skilled and educated Canadians to the workforce.

Cash-strapped young families will be able to acquire housing and other needed items for their families future and 15 dollar a day services will enable greater numbers of individuals to make financially responsible and attractive choices about their own future. By removing a major impediment to consumer spending, the NDP proposal will free up billions of dollars that will inevitably find their way into local businesses, allowing more and more entrepreneurs to take on additional workers and increase overall production.

Given all of this, it any wonder that prominent economists have estimated that every dollar the Canadian government invests in childcare will yield at least a dollar forty back to the economy, that those Nordic countries who have implemented similar universal childcare programs benefit from higher economic performance and lower income inequality, or that the current Quebec program is immensely popular across all demographics?

Families in our country are now facing record levels of consumer debt have been struggling against record increases in the costs of basic necessities such as housing, education, and pharmaceuticals while the quality of jobs have been the worst they have been in at least the last 25 years according the a recent CIBC report.

People who work hard should be able to build prosperous families in a fair environment. I’m one of those people of the first generation of Canadians guaranteed to do worse than our parents.  But we simply can’t shrug our shoulders and accept that the ongoing declines in national living standards and our economy are inevitable.

Under successive federal governments we’ve seen our heath care system, childcare systems and job creation strategies deteriorate.  The plan hasn’t been working so we have to try new things and look to other countries and models that have been successful for people and the economy.

Nearly seventy years ago, these same beliefs inspired Tommy Douglas to implement a universal Medicare system in the province of Saskatchewan, a development that was initially derided as idealistic nonsense and later adopted across the entire country. “Tis never too late,” he told his countrymen, “to build a better world.” Thanks to the efforts of Tommy Douglas’ NDP, this system now stands as one of our most significant national accomplishments, and is a point of great pride among all Canadians. There is no reason that we cannot experience these same significant improvements in the realm of childcare, or why a national childcare strategy cannot become one of the cornerstones of our continued success as a nation. It only takes a government with the courage to look towards the future, and citizens who are prepared to stand up for their shared interests  and values.

Tis never too late, after all, to build a better world or a better country.