The high cost of childcare services in Alberta has become a growing challenge for households. Addressing parents' need for access to affordable and reliable high-quality childcare that provides a safe learning opportunity for their children has become one of the most important social policy challenges. Alberta has one of the lowest childcare access rates; parents’ rates are among the highest in Canada at about $1,100 per child monthly. Even with subsidies, households are still paying out almost all they earn, and parents are constantly leaving their jobs because they cannot afford the exorbitant cost of childcare.
The NDP government introduced a $25-a-day childcare subsidy for low income families but not all childcare service centres (daycares) are participating, and daycares that are participating are inaccessible with long waitlists that seem almost impossible to access. Parents' fees in Alberta are of the highest in Canada and the subsidies do not provide the support sought by women and families who intend to enter or re-enter the workforce after having a child. Women still generally have lower income than men and when faced with the choice as to who stays at home with the children, most families will opt for the lower income parent.
The government needs to enact policies that make childcare costs more affordable, accessible and easier especially for families with more than one child to re-enter the workforce and still be able to afford childcare costs.
There is need for the provincial, federal and municipal government to create a framework policy for accountability of results through a focused public investment strategy that provides direct funding to childcare services. Public funding should be tied to measurable improvements in affordability, quality and accessibility through reduced parents' fees, increased wages for trained staff, and additional spaces. In other countries where these strategies were adopted, childcare programs are as expected and planned part of neighbourhoods like schools, libraries and recreation centres, thereby making childcare services affordable, available and accessible to all who choose to use them. Children’s healthy development and parents' work-life balance are well supported and the current and future labour force is enhanced; economic returns on public investment are promptly realized.
The government should intervene more by increasing spending on childcare by adopting the Quebec government plan of $5-a-day childcare. When it comes to affordable childcare, Quebec's low-fee program is the envy of many parents in other parts of Canada. Irrespective of one's annual income, everyone should be eligible for this low-cost childcare. Studies from Quebec show that there has been an increase in the percentage of labour force participation (between 1996 and 2016, there is an increase from 61 to 80 per cent) thanks to their daycare policy. There is also need for the government to enact employment policies that compel employers of labour to offer childcare benefits as part of their employee’s benefits package as an option for employees, and to encourage top employers to have in-house childcare options for employees.
Oge Obiorah, Edmonton