By Geneviève Malouin-Rivard
Quebec’s centres de la petite enfance (CPE), the subsidized day care centres we are familiar with today, were established in 1997 under an initiative of the Parti Québécois government. The aim was to invest in an environment that would foster children’s education and socialization.
It was that vision that led to the high level of quality we still see at today’s CPE. According to one study, this pedagogical element of our subsidized day care centres establishes an educational continuity with kindergarten that helps children develop a positive attitude towards school while reducing the risk of adjustment problems.
Through this highly worthwhile initiative, a day care service of inestimable value has been available to Quebecers. This invaluable asset, the only one of its kind in Canada, has nevertheless been under insidious attack by successive Liberal governments.
If we look back a few years, we can see the sabotage that occurred in 2003, 2004 and 2005, years that were marked by major cuts to CPE budgets. The fatal blow came in 2005 with Bill 124. In a press release issued at that time, the Coalition pour le maintien et la consolidation du réseau des centres de la petite enfance condemned the antidemocratic practices of the Liberal government, which adopted Bill 124 hastily and with no intention of collaborating with stakeholders.
In concrete terms, the purpose of the legislation was to bring about an administrative restructuring of the CPE network. The resulting megastructure put an end to the close ties among centres. Moreover, it was directly responsible for a reduction in financial resources for educational support in favour of increased oversight. In other words, Bill 124 strongly threatened what was the day care centres’ finest quality: their educational value.
The current Liberal government is continuing this pernicious undermining of the CPE. A careful review of the Leitão budget reveals the government’s desire to encourage privatization of these services. In enhancing the refundable tax credit for day care fees, the government is offering a hidden subsidy to a network of private day care centres.
The effectiveness of this incentive that the Liberal Party is offering is increased by the fact that the CPE are no longer able to keep up with demand. From 2008 to 2016, the number of spaces in the non‑subsidized private day care centres grew exponentially, from 4,751 to 55,256 – a 1128% increase. For the CPE it was a meagre 21%.
These politically-motivated decisions point to a precarious future for the CPE. By cutting their funding by several million dollars, by attacking their administrative structure and by supporting the private sector, the Liberal governments of Charest and Couillard have jeopardized a precious Quebec asset.
The Grandir en qualité 2014 study determined that the quality of the CPE was incomparable in relation to other day care services. By providing concrete support for young children’s academic and social success, the CPE help reduce inequality, as they serve as a means to address possible gaps in disadvantaged children’s development.
The people who work to educate these children every day are qualified educators. Their day-to-day work takes a considerable load off parents’ shoulders and is worthy of recognition. The CPE offer the best working conditions of any day care centre. They thus provide quality jobs for those who are shaping our future generations.
In short, the CPE are the result of the progress towards advancing the social economy that has been made in Quebec. They facilitate the democratization of a quality education for children from all social classes. They also foster the province’s economic prosperity. So in whose interests are the Quebec Liberal Party’s initiatives being undertaken? Certainly not the public’s.
The ultimate irony lies in the fact that this asset under threat is being portrayed as a model to be emulated in other Canadian provinces. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz recently talked about the CPE as a source of wealth. Our low-cost day care model stimulates the labour market and opens up more space for women. The entry of new people into the labour force is synonymous with economic growth. Collectively, we all benefit from the continued survival of the CPE.
With that in mind, PSAC has undertaken a campaign to protect this shining example of what Quebec is capable of against the pernicious policies of the Liberal government. To that end, we have carried out a factual research study to publicize the now-imperiled quality of the CPE.
 Gagnon, Marianne. (2006). Le discours politique du MELS et du MFACS et des orientations ministérielles (Master’s thesis). Université du Québec à Rimouski.