Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I rise today at third reading to speak in support of Bill C-35, An Act respecting early learning and child care in Canada.
I want to thank you, Senator Moodie, for your very detailed speech explaining Bill C-35 and its importance as a social contract.
I also want to thank you for your hard work in sponsoring this bill in the Senate. I want to thank the members of the Social Affairs Committee for your very thoughtful and important questions and comments when we studied this bill.
This bill is a first step toward the federal government’s commitment to facilitating a Canada-wide early learning and child care system, and a ten-dollar-a-day child care program. It sets out the government’s commitment to maintaining long-term funding relating to early learning and child care to be provided to the provinces, territories and to Indigenous communities.
Along with these commitments, the bill will also establish the National Advisory Council on Early Learning and Child Care. As a grandmother and former elementary school teacher, I have seen first-hand how important early learning and accessible, quality child care is to young Canadians and their families.
Honourable senators, it is essential that children be given the best possible start to set them up for a lifetime of learning.
Canadian families from every corner of the country experience barriers to accessing inclusive, culturally appropriate, high-quality child care. Too few child care spaces and rising costs have left many families struggling to find affordable care for their children.
We heard from a wide variety of witnesses from across the country at the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee. The committee heard that disparities have persisted in Canada when it comes to access to high-quality and culturally appropriate child care for Indigenous families, lower-income families, new Canadians, language minority communities and those living outside urban areas.
Bridging these gaps is going to take time, successful planning and financial support. I believe Bill C-35 will go a long way toward helping families to find affordable and quality care.
The federal government has shown its support to the provinces, territories and to Indigenous communities with their commitment of funding through the signed funding agreements. To unlock the federal funding, the provinces and territories have agreed to submit action plans and progress reports at the beginning of each fiscal year for the duration of the agreements.
I believe the progress reports will be beneficial to governments and, more importantly, to young families.
In 2021, my province of Nova Scotia signed the Canada – Nova Scotia Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement – 2021 to 2026, which provides a commitment to creating 9,500 new child care spaces and moving to ten-dollar-a day child care by 2026. Under the agreement, the federal government will commit $123 million this fiscal year, $143 million for the next fiscal year and $169 million for the 2025-26 fiscal year.
This funding will be essential to developing strategies to meet the needs of all families with young children, but particularly for Indigenous communities and French-speaking communities in my province of Nova Scotia.
Honourable senators, one of the major hurdles provinces and territories are facing when it comes to creating spaces is the labour shortage in the early child care sector. We heard from several witnesses at committee about how difficult it is to find and retain — and the retention part is important — qualified, dedicated and motivated staff.
Jobs in the child care sector have traditionally been filled by women — and they have traditionally been low-paying jobs with few benefits. As such, there has been very little incentive for young people to pursue careers in this industry.
Provinces and territories must find solutions to attract and to retain high-quality staff. In the case of Nova Scotia, this means staffing 9,500 new spaces by 2026. This must include higher wages and better benefits for employees if we are to retain high-quality staff, not just for the immediate future but for the long term.
As Taya Whitehead, Board Chair of the Canadian Child Care Federation, said:
We encourage mechanisms to ensure that child-care funding remains predictable, sustainable and sufficient in each province and territory based on the community needs and objectives of the agreements.
Bill C-35 aims to be the mechanism to ensure predictable, sustainable and sufficient financial support from successive federal governments in the future.
Honourable senators, I support Bill C-35. It is an essential piece of legislation to ensure future funding and support from the federal government beyond the current agreements which end in 2026.
Honourable senators, it is not often that we can have agreements of any kind arranged between the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments. This early childhood agreement has happened because governments at all levels have rightfully recognized that early learning and child care in Canada must be a priority.
I believe this is an opportunity not to be taken lightly. Canadian families need the supports that Bill C-35 will provide to ensure long-term access to inclusive, culturally appropriate and high-quality child care. I will be supporting Bill C-35.