Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic serves as a "window of political opportunity" to implement a national childcare plan.
"I really believe COVID has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany," she was recorded stating in a virtual conference with former Liberal MP and NHL star Ken Dryden, Global News reports.
The comments come as Freeland, who has also served as Canada's Finance Minister since the departure of Bill Morneau, is preparing to deliver her first budget on April 19. It is expected that the Liberals will introduce a national childcare plan in the budget.
"A lot of people who didn’t have to worry about early learning and childcare, now COVID has brought it into their lives and I think that creates a real opportunity for us," she said. "But I would add one more thing, and that is one of the consequences of COVID is to have brought the economic arguments to the fore."
According to Freeland, Canada has seen a worrying drop in labour force participation among women, many of whom have returned home to take care of their children as lockdowns implemented across the country leave more people at home.
Describing national childcare as a "feminist policy," Freeland said that the plan would allow more women to enter or reenter the workforce. Freeland also said that she believes in the policy because "it is a surefire way to drive jobs and economic growth."
Such proponents often point to the implementation of provincial childcare in Quebec. In the 20 years after it was implemented, the labour force participation rate for women rose from 74 to 87 percent, which supporters of national childcare attribute to the policy.
Critics of a national childcare plan have pointed to the economic costs of such a proposal, especially given Canada's mounting debt. Canada's deficit reached unprecedented levels during the coronavirus pandemic, although exact details are unclear without a budget. Experts have predicted that the deficit may be as high as $400 billion for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
Others have also questioned the role of government in providing childcare in the early life of children, arguing that it is better for parents to be more involved in a child's life in that period rather than government employees.