Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland delivered her first budget, and the first for the Liberal government in 762 days. The centerpiece of Freeland’s ambitious plan is a Liberal commitment to deliver immediate action on a $10 dollar a day childcare plan. The Liberals are betting big on childcare as the route back to their majority.
Reminder: In the modern era, no minority parliament has lasted longer than 866 days. Today is number 508 in the second Trudeau mandate, suggesting that we’re likely already less than one year out from the next election.
Liberals will point to the childcare agreement pulled together by Paul Martin (and unceremoniously scrapped by Stephen Harper when he took office in 2006), and call this program unfinished business.
Childcare, as a political position, ticks all of the right boxes for the Liberals:
- It will help get women back into the workforce, as the female labour participation rate has dipped significantly during the pandemic.
- The primary beneficiaries would be millennials, who now comprise the largest block of voters by age group.
- It’s popular among progressive voters the Liberals compete for with the NDP.
Women, young people and progressives – the holy trinity of Liberal voters.
Our colleagues at Abacus Data will be leading a webinar this week to highlight the public opinion response to the budget. One key finding that’s become clear already? Canadians overwhelmingly view this as the “child care” budget. You can register for the webinar here.
However, as with other signature Liberal policies, it will be easier said than done. To make childcare a reality, the feds will need a dance partner – 10 of them in fact. Childcare is provincial jurisdiction, so Ottawa will be forced to reach deals with the premiers in order to make good on this promise. This will likely require some kind of exchange: commit to implementing a new federal standard in exchange for cash – lots of it.
Those negotiations will likely be complicated. It’s no secret that there is no love lost between the federal Liberals and the premiers of several of Canada’s largest provinces. However, Ottawa may feel that in this instance they have the upper hand.
Trudeau’s two biggest thorns, Jason Kenney and Doug Ford, are both underwater in the polls in their respective provinces. It’s unlikely they’re in a position to turn down unsolicited money from Ottawa, especially for a program that’s broadly popular.
Quebec, which normally bristles at the prospect of any federal imposition into its jurisdiction, already has a subsidized child care program. The federal budget suggests that Ottawa will look to offer Quebec additional cash to make improvements to its program.
The Quebec experience is also a good model of the effectiveness of childcare. In 1996, the year before Quebec introduced its childcare program, female participation in the labour force in Quebec was 3% lower than the national average. Today the female participation rate is 4% higher than the national average.
While the pandemic proved to be the defining political issue of 2020, the Liberals will be hoping that they can put policy back into the shop window for voters by next election.