The evolution of Canada's child care debates

Canadians have long grappled with the meanings and purposes of child care.

As Canadians gather for ChildCare2020 -- the country's fourth national child care policy conference -- in Winnipeg on November 13, it’s worthwhile to reflect on how child care debates have unfolded over the past several decades, and particularly how the three previous national conferences -- in 1971, 1982, and 2004 -- acted as important landmarks in the sometimes-rocky landscape of Canadian child care history.

As is the case this year in Winnipeg, all three of these conferences were convened because advocates sensed an opportunity to change the national conversation about child care. In each of the previous conferences, advocates, parents, educators, and others sought to set an agenda for better child care moving forward, but they also engaged in passionate debates about what “better” meant. Taking stock of those competing visions for child care reminds us how far the movement has come over the past 40 years. 

When delegates gathered in Ottawa in June 1971 for the first Canadian Conference on Day Care, child care was a relatively new issue on the federal policy agenda. Canadians were still getting used to the idea that working motherhood was a “normal” phenomenon, and second-wave feminists had just begun their fight to have day care recognized as a necessary service to support women’s equality in the workplace and in the home.

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