1. Federal involvement in ECE policy and programs

image 1Two decades after the demise of the Dominion- Provincial Wartime Agreement, designed to encourage the provinces to provide care for the children of women working in essential industries during World War II, Ottawa addressed child care again through the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP). Established in 1966, CAP allowed the federal government to match provincial and territorial funding for poverty prevention and alleviation programs. As such, federal funding could be used to develop and fund child care for low-income families. CAP shaped provincial child care policy in ways both negative and positive. By including child care with other social services, it became entrenched as a ‘welfare’ program, an association it fi ghts to this day. But CAP also discouraged the development of commercial child care due to its proviso for non-profi t administration. Because it had an accountability component, provinces were obliged to develop standards for child care services as a condition of federal funding. In 1996, the federal matching of CAP funds ended and the conditions attached to it were eliminated, replaced with a block grant to each province. The only obligation that still remains is the prohibition against requiring a period of provincial residency for program eligibility.

Early Childhood Development Initiative – ECDI (2000)

With the demise of CAP, the federal government would not have a role in early childhood programming for the mainstream population until 2000, and the Early Childhood Development Initiative (ECDI). This agreement provided $500 million annually for programs to promote infant and maternal health, improve parenting and community supports and strengthen early learning and child care. The agreement oriented programs to the preschool years and took a holistic view of early childhood as a process that begins in utero and continues to formal schooling. Most provinces focused their efforts on information and parenting resources; scant amounts were targeted to early education programs.

Multilateral Framework Agreement on Early Learning and Child Care – MFA (2003)

To address the deficiency in the ECDI, the 2003 Multilateral Framework Agreement on Early Learning and Child Care (MFA) focused exclusively on programs for preschool aged children. Provinces and territories were to meet broad principles in their spending and agreed to enhance accessibility, quality, inclusion and parental choice. Funding was not targeted to low-income families and the concept of accountability was introduced. Both the ECDI and MFA had specific requirements for each jurisdiction to issue annual reports on their progress in providing and improving early learning and child care services.

Foundations – QUAD (2004)

In October 2004, the federal government announced Foundations, a program to build a Canada-wide system of early learning and child care. The program was popularly called QUAD, denoting the principles upon which the system was to be built: quality, universally inclusive, accessible and developmental. The 2005 federal budget earmarked $5 billion over five years to Foundations. Bilateral agreements were developed with nine provinces outlining plans to meet the QUAD goals. Quebec’s protocol acknowledged it was being compensated for programs already in place and did not include any additional commitments. The agreements included a provision allowing either party to withdraw upon giving a year’s notice. In 2006, the newly-elected Conservative government announced it would end funding in 2007.

The MFA and QUAD coincided with the OECD’s release of its assessment of Canada’s early education and care services. Together, they opened a public discussion that helped change policy makers’ perceptions about child care. No longer was it primarily viewed as a labour market support for low-income parents. The inclusion of early learning into the agreements’ names reflected an understanding of the need for environments that support children’s earliest development. The requirement that provinces and territories develop plans promoting access and quality as a condition of funding was also a departure. Until then, most provinces had limited their involvement to program licensing and assessing eligibility for parent subsidies. An opening was created for the state in community planning, to support educator training and to establish curriculum and accountability frameworks.

Child Care Spaces Initiative – CCSI (2007)

As a replacement to QUAD, the new government introduced the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) and also committed $250 million annually to fund child care spaces. The Child Care Spaces Initiative (CCSI) was to provide an incentive to employers to create workplace child care. The spaces initiative again defined child care as a program primarily for working parents. By bypassing provincial/ territorial governments, it undermined their newly found role in early childhood service development. However, following a report by a governmentappointed committee2 pointing out flaws in the plan, the funds were transferred to provincial and territorial governments.

Funding from all the above initiatives has since been rolled into the Canada Social Transfer, a block transfer to provinces/territories.a, 3 As a portion of all early education and care spending, it is a resource available to provincial and territorial governments for early childhood services.

a The Canada Social Transfer was worth about $9.59 billion in 2011.

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