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  • The Royal Commission on the Status of Women and Child Care
  • Lisa Pasolli (bio)

Perhaps one of the best-known recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women (rcsw) was the one calling for a national Day-Care Act.1 Or, at least, it is the one receiving a lot of attention these days because of the federal government's recent promise to devote more than $30 billion to an early learning and child care (ELCC) system. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, who announced the government's ELCC plans in her April 2021 budget speech, invoked the rcsw as the beginning of the movement for universal child care in Canada and promised that her government would be the one to realize the demands of "this half-century of struggle."2 As Freeland's speech signals, the rcsw shifted the terrain of Canadian childcare politics fundamentally and permanently. Fuelled by feminist demands, it gave legitimacy to the idea of child care as something to which all women, not just the deserving poor working out of economic desperation, were entitled. The rcsw was the first in a long line of national studies and task forces to recommend a national approach to daycare and a major feminist reorientation in what Rianne Mahon has called the "neverending story" of the struggle for universal child care in Canada.3 The call for a national daycare program, in other words, looms large as an as-yet-unrealized legacy of the rcsw.

Less often acknowledged, however, is that the rcsw daycare proposals were embedded in a comprehensive set of reforms to family policy that included changes to both taxation and social security. The commissioners saw daycare legislation, tax reform, and enhanced social security as moving parts in a greater whole, the whole being mothers' rights to a meaningful choice between paid work and caregiving. Meaningful choice meant public support for both options. The commissioners insisted on public funding for daycare to create more, and more affordable, spaces, but their daycare proposals also hinged on new "compensatory measures that combine[d] specific allowances [End Page 180] with a revised taxation system."4 Specifically, they proposed a $500 per child "child-care allowance," which, combined with tax reforms, would put more cash in mothers' hands, thereby allowing them to pay, on a sliding scale, their fair share into the new daycare system. The allowance would also give mothers who wanted to remain home to care for their children the security to do so without being entirely dependent on a husband. Thus, with public support for both paid work and caregiving, leveraged through an interlinked package of social programs and tax reform, the commissioners hoped mothers would be free to follow whichever path they desired.

My aim in this short piece is twofold. First, it is simply to revisit and unpack the rcsw recommendations with respect to these intertwined measures. I want to shine a light in particular on the report's often-overlooked chapter 5, "Taxation and Child-Care Allowances," and to point to the significance of the overlap between the rcsw and the substantial tax reform undertakings known as the Carter-Benson process.5 Second, I want to invite some reflection on how the linked childcare/taxation/social security recommendations have been remembered and, perhaps more accurately, forgotten. What does it mean, for example, that the depth of the rcsw's attention to tax reform is so rarely foregrounded (and sometimes not even mentioned) in histories of the commission? This is an especially important question because demands for tax relief appeared so often in women's submissions. Indeed, as Annis May Timpson has shown, "calls for tax relief for child care outstripped all other policy demands."6 One possibility, I think, is that such forgetting reflects a broader tendency in the scholarship to focus on the "big prize" – that is, a national daycare plan. In comparison, bits and pieces of tax reform can seem relatively inconsequential. But even seemingly minor tax measures can have significant implications in the long term, as we will see below. The rcsw understood this and called for weaving a durable policy web to meaningfully support mothers as...

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