Rory Leishman

In an attempt to justify their new, multi-billion dollar, “Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Plan,” the Trudeau Liberals maintain that infants and toddlers generally thrive better under the care and guidance of professional child-care workers than their own parents. Is that right?

The Department of Finance claims: “Studies by Canadians Dr. Fraser Mustard and the Honourable Margaret McCain have shown that early learning is at least as important to lifelong development as elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education—it improves graduation rates, promotes lifelong well-being, boosts lifetime earnings, and increases social equity.”

That assertion is false. Mustard and McCain have made such claims for the alleged benefits of universal, professional child care, but neither they nor anyone else have proven these extravagant claims to be true.

Regardless, the Trudeau Liberals are bent on financially coercing all provinces into following the example set by Quebec in making professional child care universally available at a projected cost to parents of just $10 per day. While that is not much money for parents, the estimated cost to federal taxpayers alone amounts to a whopping $30 billion over the next five years.

Does the success of the Quebec child care system warrant such a huge expense? People like McCain who have a vested interest in promoting universal pre-school child care think so; others are decidedly skeptical.

In a joint study of the Quebec child care system published in 2005, ““Universal Childcare, Maternal Labor Supply and Family Well-Being,” three researchers, Michael Baker (University of Toronto), Jonathan Gruber (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Kevin Milligan (University of British Columbia) reported, “striking evidence that children are worse off in a variety of behavioral and health dimensions, ranging from aggression to motor-social skills to illness. Our analysis also suggests that the new childcare program led to more hostile, less consistent parenting, worse parental health, and lower-quality parental relationships.”

In a follow-up study published in 2016 “Targeted or Universal Coverage? Assessing Heterogeneity in the Effects of Universal Childcare,” economists Michael J. Kottelenberg (Western University) and Steven F. Lehrer (Queen’s University) stated: “We find that the Quebec Family Policy significantly boosts developmental test scores for children from single parent households particularly for those who are most disadvantaged.” Other studies have shown similar benefits for the children of single parents.  However, like Baker and his colleagues, Kottelenberg and Lehrer found that children in two-parent families with below average incomes “generally receive significant negative impacts from child care” in the Quebec system.

Correspondingly, in “Universal childcare and long-term effects on child well-being: Evidence from Canada” (2017), three researchers from L’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)—Catherine Haeck, Laëtitia Lebihan, and Philip Merrigan—affirm: “Overall, the results [of our research] corroborate those of Baker et al. for preschoolers, but with some evidence that the adverse effects decline over time for some outcomes.” In conclusion Haeck et al. state: “Clearly, the reform did not benefit children.”

In 2020, McCain released “Early Years Study 4: Thriving Kids, Thriving Society.” But did she make any reference to these critical, scholarly studies of the Quebec child care system? Absolutely not. All she and the Finance Department have to offer is propaganda for universal professional child care.

Meanwhile, in February, the Manhattan Institute published a paper entitled “The Drawbacks of Universal Pre-K: A Review of the Evidence.” The author, Max Eden, a Senior Fellow and education policy expert at the New York-based research agency, commended the papers on Quebec’s Family Policy by Haek, Kottelenberg and their associates as: “Perhaps the most rigorous and most policy-relevant studies on the expansion of publicly subsidized child care.” Eden also pointed out that studies in Germany, Italy, Chile, Denmark and the United States have served to confirm that for most children in two-parent families, even good quality, professional child care is a poor substitute for care of the child in the child’s own home.

Given the failures of universal child care in Quebec and elsewhere, a sensible government would offer a refundable child-care tax credit to low-income families so all parents can afford professional child care if that is what they need or want instead of caring full-time for their child at home.

Alas, the Trudeau Liberals are not willing to offer parents such a choice. With typical arrogance, these Liberals and their New Democrat allies think they know best that preschoolers would be better off in a unionized child care centre rather than under the care and guidance of their own loving parents.