The Liberal government pledged to fund Canada-wide childcare as part of its 2021 budget
Farm families need access to flexible childcare to allow women farmers to better balance their lives, the federal ag minister told media and a panel of Manitoba women in agriculture.
“If we want Canadian agriculture to be more economically and environmentally sustainable, we must break down the barriers for hard-working women in the sector,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau in a panel discussion April 27.
The federal government promised ambitious support and funding for childcare in Canada as part of its 2021 budget. It promised $30 billion to fund, and work with provincial and Indigenous governments to develop, a Canada-wide early-learning and childcare system.
Most details remain to be seen, but the government said it will reduce parents’ fees by 50 per cent, on average, with a goal to reach an average $10-per-day fee by 2026.
Bibeau spoke with MariJo Patiño, secretary and treasurer for Manitoba Women in Agriculture and Food; Miriam Sweetnam, board member with Dairy Farmers of Manitoba; Catherine Kroeker-Klassen, chair of Manitoba Egg Farmers; Sam Connery-Nichol, who co-owns Connery’s Riverdale Farms near Portage la Prairie; and Anastasia Fyk, a Manitoba board member with the National Farmers Union.
“There are few options, especially in rural areas and due to distance, affordability, childcare should also be flexible and offer more options such as part time and drop-off,” said Patiño.
“And at the same time, options for childcare are not enough,” she said. “They need to be a safe place and they need to be well instructed in order to give women the peace of mind to go to work.”
“I need evening hours, and weekend hours, and certain crops like asparagus I’m going 24-7,” said Connery-Nichol. “Then other times I can be home with him and I don’t really need that space.”
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, women in agriculture already faced difficult challenges balancing responsibilities and expectations tied to their jobs and families,” Bibeau said in a statement on April 21.
“We all know that many women are forced to quit jobs or stop work on the farm because they don’t have childcare support. COVID-19 has exacerbated these pressures and unfairly affected women in Canada and forced many female farmers into these sacrifices,” she said.
Bibeau also told the April 27 panel she was working to see if the temporary foreign worker program could be expanded to include childcare as an eligible farm task. She said this is under consideration, and would make sure women in agriculture were consulted on this.
The NFU said it was pleased to see steps taken toward a universal childcare program, it said in an April 19 statement.
“Life for many rural families has been especially challenging during this pandemic. Many of us work off farm to support our families in addition to farming,” said Coral Sproule, NFU women’s vice-president.
“With children home from school more often, it has meant some of us had to quit off-farm jobs or work a second job from home without childcare.”
The NFU added further support for rural education and rural internet access is also needed.
“While we are pleased to see financial allocations for childcare in today’s budget, we see this as only the first step toward more equitable support for all Canadian families including rural and farm families during this critical time,” said Bess Legault, NFU women’s president.
Childcare researcher Susan Prentice said she walked on air the day the announcement was made, despite this not being Canada’s first attempt at a national childcare plan.
She said she thinks this time the penny has dropped and people realize this is needed.
“I actually do think that it’s going to get done,” Prentice said.
However, she gave a word of caution to Manitobans.
“Manitoba’s stubborn insistence that the market is the way to go really, I think, jeopardizes Manitoba’s ability to participate in this national plan,” Prentice said.
Bibeau acknowledged the program would need to be developed in partnership with provincial governments while speaking to media after the April 27 panel discussion.
She said a combination of wide community support and the federal money on the table would make provincial governments think twice about saying no.
She said a strong commitment within the Liberal government gave her confidence this attempt at nationwide childcare would succeed.
“We had the choice between different major social measures and after, you know, really consulting widely we have decided that this one is the one to make a significant difference in different ways,” she said.
“In the short, medium and long term we strongly believe it’s the best measure we could put in place to help families across Canada while helping the economy as well,” she added.