So close, yet so far: the promise of universal childcare in Ontario

There is simply no other way to fully empower women and achieve equality

Women’s empowerment is a double-edged sword.

As a society, we encourage women to go to university, get a degree, get a masters, be a corporate powerhouse. At the same time, we tell them to get married and have a family if that’s what they want. But the moment a woman chooses motherhood as well as a career, we make her life exceedingly difficult.

Premier Kathleen Wynne recently announced that the Liberals’ proposed budget would fund preschool for children from 2 1/2 years old until they start kindergarten at age 4. This election promise, if it comes to fruition, would take the weight off many shoulders feeling the burden of having children in the 21st century.

With more and more women choosing education and a full-time career, universal childcare is a necessity. There is simply no other way to fully empower women and achieve equality.

In Canada, maternity-leave benefits are pretty good. Parents can get up to 61 weeks of paid leave — meaning a woman would be getting a fraction of her salary while she’s at home. After those 61 weeks, or 14 months, everything is up in the air for a working mom.

Experts know that the first five years of life are the most important from a developmental standpoint. It’s crucial for children to be cared for properly.

Child-care costs in Ontario are the highest in the country, and waiting lists for reputable, licensed care are miles long. In 2012, the average monthly cost for full-time daycare for an infant in Ontario was $1,152.  That’s about the cost of a two-bedroom rental downtown or a mortgage payment in the suburbs.

Now imagine if a woman wanted to have more than one child, or even several.

Quebec has had a subsidized daycare system for a while, but France is where it’s at when it comes to childcare. The country has a three-element system:

  • There are daycare centres run by municipalities and overseen by the government. Children as young as three months can be cared for, and people pay an hourly rate based on their salaries. These daycare centres are tightly regulated and staff must meet the government’s strict employment standards.
  • The national government gives tax breaks to families that choose to hire nannies. These nannies must be licensed by the government and meet all the necessary qualifications.
  • Universal preschool is also available for children three to six years old. From a Canadian standpoint, it’s like mixing preschool and kindergarten into one place.

These options give women in France more flexibility and choice when it comes to balancing a career and being a mom. Women in Ontario don’t have the same options, especially low-income women who would benefit from universal childcare the most.

The reality is that we as a society are lying to the next generation of women in Ontario who dream of both career and motherhood. The exorbitant cost of childcare for women with young children is the cold, hard evidence.

It’s time for Ontario live up to its rhetoric of feminism and equality.