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Supporting Early Learning and Childcare:
A strategic investment

Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
City of Greater Sudbury Council Meeting
Council Chamber - Tom Davies Square
Sudbury, Ontario
Thursday, April 11, 2002

Thank you Mayor Gordon…and good evening!

I was especially pleased to receive an invitation from Mark Mieto to participate in your meeting this evening - and equally pleased to visit Sudbury again. Since the vision of the City of Greater Sudbury "is a growing, world-class community bringing talent, technology and a great northern lifestyle together", I'm not surprised that the leaders in this Chamber, the many individuals who have joined us tonight and the city itself, are ahead of the pack in understanding and supporting the economic case for early learning and childcare. It's clear that this team will continue to push the envelope on this strategic investment, spread the word in the community and lead the call to action.

And as you all well know, it does start with a vision. From Mayor Gordon's leadership on quality of life initiatives for children and families, Ron Bradley's focus on a "healthy community lifestyle", Ted Callaghan's emphasis on technology applications, Doug Craig's commitment to innovation/customer focus, David Courtemanche's investment in renewable resources, Austin Davey's focus on education and the environment and Ron Dupuis's view on a thriving community, to Eldon Gainer's commitment re second to none services, Dave Kilgour's focus on changing development strategies, Lionel Lalonde's determination to empower people in decision-making, Gerry McIntaggart's desire to provide more opportunities for our children and their children, Mike Petryna's commitment to creating a city model and Louise Portelance's outlook about a healthy community/vibrant economic future, you're an outstanding City Council that makes a difference - a Council that understands children are the foundation of every vision - that children are our future!

First of all, I can assure you that the concept of a banker and childcare is not an oxymoron…I'm involved in supporting early years development because this is an economic issue that all levels of government need to address, through concrete action. I'm also involved because this is an economic issue that all businesses need to understand in order to take concrete action.

Society bears a great cost if it fails to provide young people with the learning and development needed to succeed - not just at work, in life. We know that learning is shaped by early childhood experiences. Studies, research and the reality of everyday life prove this time and time again.

We also know that lack of investment in the early years can contribute to behavioural and learning problems. Dysfunctional relationships. Academic failure. And all of the associated problems… juvenile delinquency, criminal behaviour, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, chronic unemployment, poverty, health risks. All of these can be related to conditions set in the early years of life. All are costs that we share as a society. Research from the Child Care Education Foundation, says that today, it costs Canada $2.5 billion every year for remedial education because of delayed interventions or negative early experiences.

And if you want to better appreciate the return on investment, consider this. Research also shows that for every dollar spent on quality early education services, two dollars comes back through increased tax revenues, and decreased social, education and health costs. The economic case becomes evident.

My personal involvement in supporting early years (or 0-6), development started a few years ago, when I served on the Ontario Government's Early Years Study. We looked at ways to prepare children for scholastic, career and social success - from all socio-economic groups, not just at-risk youth or those with special needs. The study co-chairs were the Honourable Margaret McCain, former Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick and Dr. Fraser Mustard, medical scientist and co-founder of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.
After the McCain-Mustard study, Dr. Mustard and I assembled a group to look further at how the private sector can become involved in the early years challenge. This included organizations like the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Auto Workers, and several other businesses.

I continue to champion the early years, through Ontario's Promise: The Partnership for Children and Youth. And more recently, my involvement has been connected to the Early Learning and Child Care Commission for the City of Toronto. The Honourable Margaret McCain and I were appointed co-chairs of this new Commission last October. This Commission, its background, various findings, along with the first sneak preview of recommendations, is the focus of my remarks.

You might wonder why Toronto decided to go with a Commission. Very simply, the Early Learning and Child Care Commission for the City of Toronto was established as part of a communication and advocacy strategy to influence national/provincial policy and funding support for early learning and childcare. "The Commission is designed to raise the profile of cities as centres of human and economic development; to increase funding for early learning and care services; to influence national policy on early learning/child care and to ensure Toronto receives its share of funding from the Agreement on Early Childhood Development Services (ECDS)". It's important to note that the Commission is not being asked, "What should be done" to support children and families in Toronto, rather "How this can be accomplished"?

The Commission's timing is critical from the perspective of influencing federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal negotiations as the National Children's Agenda is rolled out. While large urban areas are centres of economic and human growth, they have been mainly excluded from intergovernmental discussions on the well-being of children and families. In addition, cities are a hot button right now. The push is on for capital infrastructure investment to revive cities. And the Commission makes a statement about the significant need for a strong social infrastructure that offers the quality of life advantage. A balancing act of sorts…

We've consulted with over 100 federal, provincial and municipal officials, business and community organizations, as well as addressed the federal government's National Children's Agenda Caucus Committee and a Sub-Committee on Children and Youth at Risk. The Commission's Report, to be released shortly, contains recommendations for all three levels of government and the community. It will hopefully be beneficial to communities at large, including the City of Greater Sudbury.

Since the Social Union Framework Agreement is currently under review, there may be some pressure to demonstrate the advantages of a new way of conducting business under the agreement, which includes opportunities for the federal government to engage in direct activities with individuals and communities. This is a message that will likely resonate well with Canadians.

It's widely accepted that the funding under the ECDS Agreement is inadequate and must increase to meet child development goals. The federal government included a commitment to children in its election Red Book and reiterated this commitment in its Throne Speech. This has raised expectations for increased ECDS funding and support…

The bottom line (says the Toronto Board of Trade) is that if governments won't invest in cities - in children - neither will businesses. A decline of sorts has already manifested itself in Toronto; Fortune magazine sited Toronto as the top city to do business in 1996, yet in 2000, the city didn't make the "top 10" list.

Place Rated Almanac ranked Toronto fourth in 1996 and seventh in 2000. Countries are the sum of their cities -- if the deterioration doesn't reverse itself, the Canada we know won't survive. Turning this less than bright forecast around necessitates investments in both capital and social infrastructures.

We've also found that early years development has been interpreted to mean 'ABC' - anything but childcare. Children learn from birth and the everyday aspects of life are their textbooks. A young child's development cannot take place without nurturing and care. Any attempt to separate development from care is therefore artificial. It's also counterproductive to separate the needs of children from their parents. How ironic that so much of the provincial Early Childhood Development (ECD) allocations are targeted at compensating children for the inadequate care they receive.

I've mentioned various findings…here's a sneak preview of the context of some Commission recommendations:

1. Everyone must be involved, but government must lead...as opposed to what currently exists -- many are involved but no one has responsibility. Canadians deserve and expect accountability for public investments.

2. The provincial government should direct future allocations to implementing the main recommendation of the Early Years Study, i.e., use existing community capacity, resources and expertise to build a system of child development and parenting programs that simultaneously meets children's development needs and parents' needs for non-parental care and supports.

3. The province needs to develop policy mandates, targets and timetables as well as allow municipalities, the mandated managers and co-founders of children's services, to exercise their demonstrated expertise in this area.

4. Aboriginal children are particularly underserved - the City should be working with the community to seek federal dollars under the new off-reserve childcare initiative to expand services here.

5. As a starting point, business needs to recognize that this is an issue where it has a particular stake…business needs to make early years development a topic in the boardroom. Canadian business lags behind its U.S. and British counterparts in this regard. Business can also use its clout to encourage/support government action.

When we invest in our young people - in the early years - we're really investing in keeping our economy strong and competitive. That's the huge payoff. By investing in our children, we're investing in a strong and healthy Canada. Investing in children and youth simply makes sense.

And we must support partnerships that work towards these ends. I can't say enough about the value of partnerships between government, business and community groups. I firmly believe that when it comes to making a difference for children and youth, we all have a shared responsibility, and corporations can play an important role. What a great way to build a civic and civil society, plus promote social development. Everybody wins!

Partnerships involving the private sector are essential. Corporations are part of the community. And the best solutions are community-based. When it comes to the early years, we need to open our minds and think about all sorts of possibilities. And that's exactly what I'll be talking about at tomorrow's Chamber luncheon.
It's impossible for me to speak about children and early years development without acknowledging some of the good things happening in the City of Greater Sudbury:

  • I took note of your Week of the Children last October - "happy, healthy families are the foundation" of your community - of all communities.
  • I also read your National Child Benefit Program Evaluation Executive Summary (December 2001) with great interest. The familiar theme of increasing awareness, education and communication among parents, families and service providers, echoed in the recommendations.
  • The Mayor and Council's Children First Roundtable, co-chaired by Councillor Louise Portelance and Janet Gasparini, Executive Director of the Social Planning Council (and launched last September) was a marvelous discovery for me. I'd love to find out more about the activities of the Roundtable - I'm already impressed with your recent recognition of Dan Gareau, who's obviously a volunteer extraordinaire and someone who believes in putting children first.
  • With the official opening of the Ontario Early Years Centre in Sudbury on March 18th, the city can now move ahead with more programs, services and information for parents and caregivers of young children. From literacy and interactive learning activities to parenting programs covering all aspects of early child development, the Centre will likely encourage increased interest and participation. If there's sufficient time tomorrow, I'll make a point of dropping by the Centre and chatting with Lois Mahon, the Executive Director.
  • And your 2002 "Mapping the Vision" document is also a testament to putting children first.

In closing, a focus on early childhood development shouldn't be a controversial notion. Given the economic benefits down the road, it's very much a strategic initiative. It's in the national interest to do more. It's in the business interest to do more too. At RBC Financial Group, we'll continue to make children and youth one of our priorities and give even greater focus to the early years.

Perhaps we can all learn from the Sudbury model…when the Mayor said in his inaugural address, "we want health care and we became the Regional Health Care Centre for the North; we wanted an education centre and it happened; we wanted to be a Retail Centre and we got that too; now what do we want? We want a medical school, we want software companies, we want a film industry and we want jobs, jobs, jobs". Well, you have created the Northern Medical School; you have created new jobs…with this spirit, determination and team, does anyone doubt that the City of Greater Sudbury will make its wish list come true and much more, particularly when it comes to putting children first? May the City of Toronto team enjoy a similar spirit and determination in the months and years ahead on the issue of early learning and childcare - supporting early years development.

Thanks very much for the opportunity to address City Council tonight. I look forward to hearing about the ongoing successes of Sudbury's early years initiatives…and if you prefer, I'll send the full Toronto Commission Report to the Mayor's Office as soon as it's released.

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