Child Care

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, this question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate on a similar subject. The world is watching when it comes to child care and, frankly, it is embarrassing. From the United Nations to the OECD, Canada has been repeatedly criticized for its failed child care policies and their impact on healthy child development.

Despite paying the highest child care fees in the world, Canada tied dead last among 25 countries in December 2008. As Senator Eggleton said, this ranking appeared in UNICEF’s report card on child care.

The honourable senator talked about the 60,000 spaces, but then there is the report card. When will this government see that child care is an investment and not an expense? How do we improve on the numbers?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): I do not share the honourable senator’s pessimistic view of the state of child care in this country or his pessimistic view that this country is selling its families and children short. I do not buy that at all. I have no knowledge of how UNICEF bases its findings. I would have to see how UNICEF calculated its findings, but it surely did not take into account the $1.1 billion that the federal government transfers to the provinces and territories for early learning and child care and early childhood development.

If honourable senators look around the country, as Canadians, we should be very proud of our child care, our education and our health care systems. Clearly, on many indexes, when compared to the rest of the world, we are in very good shape. However, I would have to read the report and figure out how they came to this calculation. Then I would be in a better position to defend our country.

Senator Munson: Does the government have any plans to sit down with its provincial counterparts in the near future?

The honourable senator talked about different provinces having different statistics and how they are spending money in their provincial jurisdictions. In a vast country like ours, 60,000 spaces do not seem like many. In the environment in which we are living — younger Canadians with children where both parents must work — these families are spending a lot of money on child care. That takes a great deal out of their paycheques.

I do not suggest a national child care plan, but does the government have something along the lines where it has its own report cards, and works in tandem with provinces to obtain better results for what is spent?

Senator LeBreton: Let me clarify something. The 60,000 child care spaces I spoke of were in addition to those that already exist. They are a result of the $250 million funding the government provided for in Budget 2007, an additional 60,000 child care spaces over what was there before we came into government. The number of child care spaces is not 60,000 in total.

With regard to the honourable senator’s suggestion that the ministers sit down with their provincial counterparts, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and the Minister of Health work with their provincial counterparts constantly and continuously on these matters. I do not have any hesitation in saying that this matter is not something that arises once in a while. It is something that is worked on constantly by the ministers, and they will continue to do so. An additional 60,000 child care spaces have been created as a result of the policies of our government.

Senator Munson: Since we are talking about statistics, I accept the honourable senator’s argument. For the record, in terms of statistics, according to the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, an average of 50,831 new child care spaces were created each year between 2001 and 2004.