The Alberta government’s recent Speech from the Throne began with a focus on women. Delivering the speech on International Women’s Day, the government said it would “recommit to carrying on this work” for gender equality, while also noting that a new mother now heads the Ministry for the Status of Women. But noticeably absent in the speech was any mention of the government’s promise to increase child care funding.
In its three-year fiscal plan, released in October 2015, the government had outlined the following commitment:
Child Care. There is $297 million budgeted in 2015-16 for child care programs. Budget 2015 delivers on the commitment to create new child care spaces and improve affordability, quality and access with $75 million in 2016-17 and $100 million in 2017-18 in new funding to move towards $25/day child care in Alberta.
The absence of child care in the recent Throne Speech signals that the government may be backtracking on its promise. Finance Minister Joe Ceci said in December that some commitments could “potentially be delayed or reduced.” A reversal would be fundamentally at odds with three of the government’s top priorities — boosting the economy, managing the province’s revenue shortage, and tackling gender inequality — which they articulated while on the campaign trail and since taking office.
Child care would address government priorities
Unsurprisingly, the overarching theme of the Throne Speech was the economy, which is the top concern for many Albertans of late. Research out of the University of Sherbrooke shows that substantial government investment in quality, affordable child care results in big gains for the economy. Quebec’s $7-a-day child care program has resulted in 70,000 more women with children entering the workforce and a 1.7 per cent boost to the province’s GDP.
A second theme of the speech was the massive shortage of government revenues. Counterintuitive as it may seem, the same University of Sherbrooke research shows that increased government investment in child care actually results in a net gain for government revenues. Put simply, new revenues come from mothers entering the workforce through additional income tax contributions, less need for government transfers, and increased purchasing power, which creates government revenue through investment and corporate taxes.
Thirdly, the speech talked about addressing gender equality. It is disproportionately women who stay at home caring for children, and while some mothers make that decision, many others do not have a choice. The lack of available and affordable child care spaces forces them to stay out of, or in some cases leave, the paid workforce. Making affordable, quality child care available to all Alberta families would ensure those parents who want to work outside the home have the chance to do so.
The government aims to strengthen and diversify the economy, increase government revenues, and reduce gender inequality — and it can start by immediately making a significant investment in child care. All Albertans would benefit from it.