Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be here this afternoon.
We are here today to give you a technical briefing on the early learning and child care system across Canada, and on Bill , which as you know was tabled in Parliament on December 8, 2022.
Today's briefing will provide details on the vision, objectives and other key elements of Bill , but prior to outlining the specifics of the proposed legislation, I understand there is some interest in digging into the agreements, so we would like to take some time to situate the bill within the broader context of the Canada-wide system that is being built in collaboration with provincial, territorial and indigenous partners. After the presentation, we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Slide 3 in our deck provides an overview of recent federal commitments with respect to early learning in child care. Since 2016, the Government of Canada, in collaboration with provincial, territorial, and indigenous partners, has provided significant investments—which I won't repeat, but they are detailed on the slide—and has undertaken a range of activities to advance a Canada-wide system. What is perhaps most important for you to understand is that this work is grounded in two frameworks: the multilateral early learning and child care framework and the indigenous early learning and child care framework.
The multilateral framework was endorsed in June 2017 by all federal, provincial, and territorial ministers, with the exception of Quebec. This framework sets the foundation for a shared long-term vision for early learning and child care, guided by the agreed-upon principles of quality, accessibility, affordability, flexibility and inclusivity. It is these shared principles that formed the foundation of the initial bilateral agreements with the provinces and territories in 2017, as well as extensions to those agreements, and to the new Canada-wide agreement signed just last year.
I'd like to note that, although Quebec stated that it supported the general principles included in the framework, it does not approve of or formally adhere to the framework itself. The governments of Quebec and Canada acknowledge Quebec's leadership in early learning and child care. Together, they have negotiated asymmetrical agreements for the transfer of federal funds. Under those agreements, Quebec is not subject to the same accountability and reporting requirements, which I will come back to.
Concurrently, in 2017 the Government of Canada and indigenous partners undertook a comprehensive engagement process to support indigenous early learning and child care. Informed by this engagement, the government worked with indigenous partners to co-develop the indigenous early learning and child care framework, which was endorsed by the Government of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council and publicly released in September 2018.
This framework lays out a shared vision, principles and a path forward for high-quality, culturally strong indigenous early learning and child care for first nations, Inuit and Métis families.
As I mentioned at the outset, I would like to take a little time on slide 4 to position the legislation within the broader context of the Canada-wide system, core to which are the bilateral agreements with provinces, territories and indigenous partners. These are five-year Canada-wide agreements that run from fiscal year 2021-22 to 2025-26. They govern the transfer to the provinces and territories of the $27.2-billion investment announced in budget 2021.
We also have what we often refer to as the extension agreements, a separate set of bilateral agreements with provinces and territories that outline the transfer of budget 2016 and 2017 investments.
Finally, we have funding agreements with indigenous partners for indigenous early learning and child care. These are guided by the co-developed indigenous early learning and child care framework and managed through national and regional partnership tables.
The system is so much more than just the agreements. What we are trying to show is the many other initiatives that support the system across Canada, as it continues to develop.
First, we have a number of multilateral entities looking at current challenges and emerging issues regarding early learning and child care, including, importantly, challenges related to the early childhood educator workforce.
These entities include, first, the national and regional indigenous early learning and child care partnership tables, which support early learning and child care implementation to enable first nations-led, Inuit-led and Métis-led decision-making and a pathway to transfer high-quality indigenous early learning and child care programs to regional indigenous governing bodies; second, the federal, provincial and territorial forum of ministers most responsible for early learning and child care, which was established in July 2022 as a mechanism to discuss emerging issues and advance shared ELCC priorities; third, the National Advisory Council on Early Learning and Child Care, which was announced in November 2022 to provide advice and a forum for engagement on issues facing the early learning and child care sector.
Supporting this work are our program—the federal secretariat on early learning and child care —and the indigenous early learning and child care secretariat.
The federal secretariat, which I lead, was first announced in the government's 2020 fall economic statement and launched in August 2021. Among other things, we negotiate and manage the bilateral agreements with provinces and territories, provide oversight for investments in data and research projects, manage the early learning and child care innovation program and provide secretariat support to the national advisory council and the FPT ministers table.
My colleague Ms. Reddin leads the indigenous early learning and child care secretariat, which was established at ESDC in response to feedback from national engagement and commitments on the indigenous early learning and child care framework around improving federal coordination and streamlining administration.
Ms. Reddin and her team act as a federal focal point for indigenous ELCC transformation, support indigenous elements of broader Government of Canada ELCC strategies and liaise with key federal departments on the implementation of the indigenous ELCC transformative initiative to ensure better horizontal coordination among departments in support of comprehensive and holistic indigenous ELCC approaches.
Last, of course, Bill , the Canada early learning and child care act, is intended to complement and reinforce other elements of the Canada-wide system by, among other things, establishing in law federal commitments to provincial, territorial and indigenous partners to continue to work with them to build and maintain a Canada-wide system.
It's a lot, but on the fifth slide, you can see the agreements with the provinces and territories, which are essential to the development and maintenance of the system across Canada.
As I mentioned previously, budget 2021 earmarked $27.2 billion for provincial and territorial transfers to form the cornerstone of the system, complementing bilateral agreements in ELCC that were signed with provinces and territories to implement earlier federal funding from budgets 2016 and 2017.
Budget 2021 also committed the federal government to work with provincial and territorial governments to support primarily not-for-profit providers to expand the number of regulated spaces. Agreements were signed with all 13 provinces and territories between July 2021 and March 2022, with Quebec signing an asymmetrical agreement in recognition of their existing ELCC system.
The Canada-wide agreements are long, they are detailed, and they're all available online, but most importantly, they are binding legal documents that lay out provincial and territorial commitments to meet objectives related to four agreed-upon principles: affordability, access, high quality and inclusivity. They lay out eligible areas of investment, financial provisions and reporting requirements.
On the sixth slide, we highlight certain specific commitments included in the agreements.
First is affordability. The goal is to reduce average fees for regulated child care by 50% by the end of 2022 and achieve an average cost of $10 a day for regulated child care for children under six by 2025-26. We'll see in the table on the following slide exactly where provinces and territories are at on that.
Under “Access”, agreements commit each jurisdiction to creating a specific number of new child care spaces by 2025-26, with over 250,000 of them—the vast majority—being not-for-profit spaces.
The Canada-wide agreements also commit the provinces and territories to specific activities related to the delivery of high-quality child care. For all provinces and territories, this includes commitments to support the recruitment and retention of a skilled, qualified, early childhood educator workforce. In terms of the principle of inclusion, provinces and territories have committed to developing and implementing plans to ensure that vulnerable children and children from diverse populations have equitable access to regulated child care spaces.
The seventh slide gives you an idea of the current situation in terms of affordability and accessibility. I won't go into that any further, as the table is quite explicit.
Slide 7 is here to outline some of the progress that provinces and territories have been making with respect to shared objectives and commitments on affordability and access. You'll see that all but one jurisdiction approved the commitment to reduce child care fees by 50% by the end of 2022, but at the end of the day, that was reflective of the fact that Manitoba was able to jump to a $10-a-day commitment as of April 2 of this year, which was just announced on Friday. Everyone else, you will see, is either on track or there already. You'll note that affordability commitments are not applicable to the Quebec agreement, as the province already had a highly affordable system in place at the time of signature.
Finally, as I mentioned previously, in the Canada-wide agreements provinces and territories have committed to creating over 250,000 new spaces by March of 2026. The last column of the table summarizes space creation in each province and territory.
The next slide of the presentation, slide 8, provides some recent examples of provincial and territorial announcements related to the provision of high-quality early learning and child care programs and services, which, as many of you know, is closely tied to the ECE workforce. While the Government of Canada cannot set standards that amount to regulating child care, including the ECE workforce, as the jurisdiction of this falls under the purview of provinces and territories, what the federal government can do is attach some limited conditions to money transferred to provinces, which we do through the Canada-wide early learning and child care agreements and their associated action plans.
For example, through the Canada-wide agreements, jurisdictions are required to demonstrate meaningful progress on improving the quality of ELCC programs and services through workforce-related commitments. As a result, we are seeing provinces and territories announcing ECE workforce strategies and measures to recruit and retain ECEs in the sector in areas such as hiring, retention, training and wage increases.
Funding is also being used to recruit, train and retain indigenous early childhood educators, including the establishment of baseline wage scales to remain competitive with the ELCC sites operating in a provincial and territorial context.
In addition to establishing agreed principles and objectives, each agreement describes the eligible investment areas.
These areas of investment vary somewhat in each bilateral agreement, recognizing that each jurisdiction has the responsibility to develop or enhance a system that best responds to the needs and priorities of their communities. However, I can say in general that the agreements lay out the following: first, that federal funding is invested to expand regulated or licensed child care for children under six years old; second, that non-profit or publicly delivered child care is prioritized while recognizing that in some jurisdictions non-profit, public and private, and for-profit operators all play a role in the delivery of high-quality regulated child care; third, that provinces and territories take into account the needs of official language minority communities in developing and delivering programs and services; fourth, that they deliver innovative approaches to support the principles of the Canada-wide system; and finally, that they make efforts to target funding toward vulnerable families, including families of children with disabilities, lower-income families and families in underserved communities.
The agreements include provincial and territorial action plans that provide more details on specific investments that PTs will undertake in support of eligible areas in order to achieve the Canada-wide early learning and child care objectives. Currently, provinces and territories have prepared action plans for the fiscal years of 2021-22 and 2022-23. They will be submitting their action plans for the remaining years of the Canada-wide agreements at the beginning of the next fiscal year, with two exceptions: The Ontario plan is a little bit different because Ontario signed so late, so we already have its plan for next year, and Quebec is not required to submit an action plan under its asymmetrical agreement.
The agreements also include financial provisions and very detailed reports. They are outlined on the tenth slide. They include clarifications about the allocation and disbursement of federal funds. For instance, Canada's contribution is paid out in fairly equal semi-annual payments.
There are conditions around this. Beginning in the second year of the agreement, which is this year, the Canada-wide second payment is withheld if a province or territory does not submit an annual progress report outlining data and results achieved, as well as an audited financial statement of the previous fiscal year. In addition, beginning in 2023-24, the first annual payment could be withheld if a jurisdiction has not submitted its detailed action plan covering the remainder of the agreement. Funding may also be withheld if a jurisdiction is unable to meet the agreed-upon objectives as set out in the agreement.
Finally, the agreements also include details on their administration. We have already discussed the issue of reports, but we also included some other key measures that are in the agreements.
There is the establishment of bilateral implementation committees as a means to monitor progress on the implementation of the agreements and to provide a forum to identify challenges in consultation with stakeholders and partners.
Lastly, there are clear processes for any disputes related to agreement non-compliance. Ultimately, this concludes with a six-month termination clause, which is available to both parties if terms of the agreement are not respected.
I will turn to my colleague, Ms. Reddin, to look at the next slides.
The Canada-wide approach includes an indigenous-specific strategy that complements the Canada-wide agreements in place. The goal is not to create separate systems but rather to enable indigenous-led strategies within comprehensive and coordinated systems that meet the needs of indigenous children and families wherever they live.
As mentioned, in 2017 a comprehensive national engagement was held on indigenous early learning and child care. This informed the co-development of the indigenous early learning and child care framework. The framework includes an indigenous-specific vision and principles, and it guides our work in this sector. It includes distinct first nations, Inuit and Métis early learning and child care frameworks. Since the mid 1990s, the federal government has been investing in aboriginal head start and day care programs, and this will continue.
Additional investments for indigenous early learning and child care, committed to in 2017 and strengthened in Budget 2021, build on those former programs and advance the priorities of the indigenous early learning and child care framework, and the development of the system across Canada. Most of these investments are held in funding envelopes based on high quality ELCC, and the funding is administered through amendments to contribution agreements. These funds are jointly managed through national and regional partnership tables with Canada, a process that puts indigenous leaders at the forefront of decisions concerning the allocation of funds, priorities and work plans.
Indigenous leaders have the flexibility to direct which agreement they would like to receive ELCC funding through. Four federal partners—Employment and Social Development Canada, Indigenous Services Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada—are lined up to support and administer agreements under a common set of program authorities.
These investments fall into three broad categories. In the first category are dedicated investments in governance and partnership building. This is to enable greater self-determination and indigenous government participation—alongside Canada and the provinces and territories—in the design and implementation of a Canada-wide system by hiring staff at the political and technical levels and establishing centres of expertise akin to ministries in a federal-provincial-territorial context.
The second is increased investments to support indigenous early learning and child care programs and services. This funding is flexible and supports a number of priorities identified by indigenous leaders, including, for example, the development of culturally appropriate curricula and learning tools, linguistic revitalization initiatives for early learners and expanded access or hours of care.
Finally, the third category consists of dedicated investments in indigenous early learning and child care infrastructure, including minor capital repairs and renovations at existing federal indigenous early learning and child care sites. Starting next fiscal year, there are new investments to replace sites that have outlived their useful life or to build new centres in communities that are underserved.
Indigenous early learning and child care investments alone are not enough to achieve the vision of a Canada-wide system. Collaboration among federal, provincial, territorial and indigenous governments is required to help break down barriers in access to early learning and child care programs and services and to promote culturally appropriate early learning and child care models.
To anchor this collaboration with indigenous partners as well as federal and provincial governments, the Canada-wide early learning and child care agreements recognize reconciliation, the indigenous early learning and child care framework and the importance of working collaboratively with indigenous governing bodies and organizations. The indigenous early learning and child care transformation initiative supports federal implementation of the framework. It shifts from a previous program delivery model—aboriginal head start and day care service providers—to a program delivery model with indigenous governments.
We heard, through engagement, “We know best. We want to be at the forefront of making decisions about children and families in our communities.” This approach aligns with that feedback.
This approach also aligns with the broader commitments of establishing a government-to-government relationship with indigenous peoples. Finally, this approach aligns with call to action number 12 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, calling on the federal, provincial, territorial and indigenous governments to develop culturally appropriate early childhood and education programs for indigenous families.
There are close to 60 national and regional partnership tables or bilateral relationships on indigenous early learning and child care across the country. Some of these tables are long-standing and have entrenched governance processes. Others are new and emerging and are focused around key experts or identified technical conveners. Technical capacity is emerging to support and provide advice to indigenous leaders for their decisions.
These partnership tables develop plans and funding allocations and set priorities. They coordinate indigenous early learning and child care activities and enable the sharing of best practices by bringing together many indigenous partners across programs, sectors, communities and governments, both nationally and regionally. They are also beginning to serve as venues for provincial-territorial dialogue and influence where there is willingness, especially in the context of advancing a Canada-wide early learning and child care system.
What is key is that indigenous leaders are at the forefront of decision-making on funding allocations, plans and priorities. Canada is at the table to provide oversight and expertise, but the primary federal objective is to ensure that the federal system is lined up to support indigenous priorities and decisions.
Slide 14 provides some examples of early progress in advancing and strengthening indigenous early learning and child care. In Manitoba, for example, a strategy and governance model designed and owned by a first nation is guiding multi-year investments in indigenous early learning and child care, building on a province-wide first nations education model. In addition, federal investments have supported a total of 73 Inuit communities to expand and improve access to culturally appropriate early learning and child care programs and services.
In Nunavut, federal funding is supporting indigenous language resources, Inuit cultural programs and subsidies for the early childhood educator workforce and improvements to child care facilities.
Last, I'll highlight that the Métis nation governments have been working to improve access, affordability and availability of culturally appropriate and Métis-specific early learning and child care programs and services. This includes child care subsidies in Alberta, Michif and Dene immersion programs for kindergarten students in Saskatchewan and the establishment of new Métis child care sites in Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia.
I'll turn back to you, Michelle, to present the vision and approach behind Bill .