UBC prof gives four reasons B.C. isn’t delivering childcare

UBC assistant political science professor Paul Kershaw doesn’t have kids. But as a citizen, he said, he thinks it’s society’s responsibility to get all kids off to the best start possible—even if that means raising his taxes.

Kershaw also works with UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership. The agency coordinates the testing of all B.C. kindergartners for “vulnerabilities” in language, cognition, physical development, and other areas. Since 2001, the Early Development Instrument has found that more and more kids are showing up for kindergarten with barriers to learning. At last count, it was 30 percent. And the majority, he said, are from middle-class homes.

Knowing this, why isn’t B.C.’s political leadership willing to invest in a universal, affordable, accessible childcare program? Here’s Kershaw’s theory:

1. The costs scare politicians.
“By today’s standards,” he said, “it’s relatively expensive. And by that I mean we haven’t had to create a new social program in quite some time, as we did having to create health care and unemployment insurance and pensions. These are very expensive programs, but they’ve become normalized so we don’t view them as such. Health case is $15 billion, and childcare is $1.5 billion, so it’s no small chunk of change for any provincial budget. That’s one of the key reasons it’s a hot potato.”

2. Politicians won’t fund health promotion.
“We’re wonderful about treating illness after the fact. We will spend hundreds of thousands—if not millions—to save one preterm baby, but we are very uncomfortable about promoting housing for families with children that is affordable, or making the case that no one goes hungry in our province, or is homeless. Even when you get into the middle class, and childcare is largely a middle class issue, we don’t seem too concerned that we get these kids off to a good start in life. We let parents put together a patchwork of inadequate supports. We could really do so much to promote health if we go it right in the early years.”

3. Feminist arguments are considered fringy by politicians.
“No one wants to talk about gender inequality anymore....Even when both parents work full-time, women shoulder the responsible to shoulder childcare alternatives when regular care falls through, they stay home when the kids are sick. That’s just how houses are making decisions. Just 15 percent of people taking parental leave are men....Public policy seems content to say, women, figure it out yourselves....We are content to burn out women.”

4. The baby boomers are a “Canadian blight”.

“We are unwilling to ask tough questions about generational inequality....This is the generation that has their hands on the levers of power that’s tolerating 30 percent of our school-age population showing up vulnerable. These intergenerational justice questions are getting sidelined, because the dominant question seniors are wanting to ask is how much money is going to be there for me to get that next knee replacement. We need to make sure people are comfortable and cared for, but before we start debating whether people are eligible for three knee replacements, I think we really do want to think about what it means to promote health over the lifecourse and get that part right.”

For more on childcare and the May 12 election, look for the May 7 edition of the Straight or check out Straight.com.