Child care and Canadian federalism in the 1990s: Canary in a coal mine

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Martha Friendly
14 Aug 2000
Occasional paper 11


This paper examines the federal/ provincial jurisdictional obstacles to a national child care strategy that arose in the 1990s, and whether the obstacles can be overcome. After examining the three failed attempts to secure a national child care strategy in the decade between 1984 and 1995, it analyses child care within the concept of the "social union" that began to be debated as the federal role in social programs waned in the 1990s. Suggesting that federal leadership is necessary for the success of a Canadian child care strategy, it evaluates the Social Union Framework Agreement of 1999 in some detail, proposing that the agreement's principles and stated objectives create not only a new imperative for a national child care strategy but provide opportunities for implementation. It suggests that under the Social Union Framework Agreement, both the federal government and the provincial/ territorial governments have appropriate roles to play in child care.




• Why early childhood care and education is a matter of national importance
• What is this paper about?

1 Models of child care and patterns of federalism: History, context and framework

• What does a national child care program mean: Who does what?
• Common ground
• Three-time failure of a national child care strategy
• The 1995 federal budget: The turning point
• 1995 and after: On the federal/provincial highway without a roadmap
• The rules of the game

2 Child care and the Social Union

• The federal/ provincial climate after 1995
• Experimenting with the Social Union

3 The Social Union Framework Agreement: A race to the top?

• Principles (Clause 1)
• Federal spending power (Clause 5)
• Social transfers
• Direct federal transfers
• Public participation: Public accountability and transparency
• Review of the Framework Agreement
• There's room in the Social Union for federal leadership

4 What happens next? Proposals for Action

• Key political design issues
• Proposals for action: One scenario
• National guiding principles
• Models of service
• The challenge: "Thinking outside the box"
• Is child care a canary in a coal mine?



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