Early learning and child care:
The "stars are aligned"
Executive Vice President
& Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Economics of Early
Childhood Development and Care Luncheon
Monday, November 29, 2004
Steve, thanks very
much for the warm introduction
it's been awhile since I was in Sault Ste.
Marie (yet I remember my visits well) - making it an even greater pleasure to
be here this afternoon. Just before lunch, several local politicians, administrators
and I had a round table discussion about early learning and child care questions/issues.
I'm pleased that Mayor John Rowswell, Tony Martin, Debbie Amaroso, Guido Caputo,
Allan Northan, Anna Zuccato, Vicki Burns, Phil Bumbacco and others have also joined
us for lunch. I guess the morning session went OK - and they just want to hear
While perusing one of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development
Corporation's (SSMEDC) annual reports, I was reminded that the city's history,
"prior to 1662 can only be obtained from native legends, which indicate that
the Sault is the original meeting place where aboriginal nations gathered from
all over North America to conduct business." It's gratifying to see that
history truly lives on, as SSMEDC describes the Sault today as "a vibrant
community passionately committed to new and exciting ventures
place for business."
By the way, I'm very impressed with what's happening
in this city and region - some headlines of late have got us talking about the
Sault in Toronto (as hard as that might be for many of you to believe):
last Wednesday, the Algoma District School Board acknowledged Korah Collegiate
and Vocational School for its accreditation in offering the International Baccalaureate
(IB) Program. As the news release read in part, "Korah is one of only 91
schools in all of Canada (one of only 34 in Ontario) that offers the IB Program.
An IB Diploma can be a student's passport to some of the world's most renowned
- And on November 2, I was thrilled to hear that the
federal government awarded $1.75 million to Algoma University College, to establish
its first Canada Research Chair. I couldn't agree more with president, Dr. Celia
Ross, when she said: "the Canada Research Chairs Program recognizes the critical
research that will be conducted at Algoma University College
Canadian universities to achieve the highest levels of research excellence, become
world-class research centres, and attract and retain the best researchers and
students." I'll also be watching for the completion of the new Information
Technology Centre and Student Centre at Algoma U with great interest. Congratulations
- it's good to see Dr. Ross with us today.
It's no accident that
I mentioned these education milestones in advance of talking about early learning
and child care. Just as it's no accident your milestones were achieved. Investing
in children and education is a natural combination. The Sault's investment in
education is not unlike the Sault's investment in children - as investing in children
is an investment in the Sault's prosperity - in Canada's prosperity - and investing
in kids is everybody's business. I'm often reminded of two quotes and one myth
when I think about children:
- "The best inheritance a person can
give to his children is a few minutes of his time each day"
(O. A. Battista);
- "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else
you do matters."
(Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis); and
rearing myth #1: Labour ends when the baby is born" (unknown author).
bottom line is that the earlier we invest in a child's life, the greater the future
dividend. As a business leader I clearly understand that improving shareholder
value tomorrow has everything to do with investing in children today.
involved in supporting early learning and child care because it's an economic
investment that requires more federal, provincial and municipal government action.
RBC can help influence public policy and public opinion. After all, the development
of human capital at an early age is key to a prosperous economy.
because it's an economic investment that needs corporate/business action. As a
business leader, I have a responsibility to push the envelope on high priority
issues - and what's more important than children? I'm also involved because it's
an economic investment that requires more community action
as I said, kids
are everybody's business. As a children's advocate (and parent), the only way
to make a difference is to get involved and get others involved!
no doubt in my mind that business (both large and small) has a vital role to play
in what I refer to as the collaborative solution on the path to prosperity. Strong,
diverse public sector, community and business leadership needs to be at the same
table when it comes to policy direction and issues about early learning and child
care. And make no mistake about it - child care is part of the early learning
equation. History has proven time and time again that shifts or changes in public
policy don't usually take off until the business community rallies behind them.
It's clear that business has a vested interest in supporting the development
of sound public policy, as business has a stake in early learning and child care
outcomes, i.e., education, employment, health, safety and community engagement.
Key stakeholders have come together to support this event: Ontario Early Years,
Algoma Health Unit, District of Sault Ste. Marie - Social Services Administration
Board and RBC Financial Group. The link between economic development and child
care may be an uncommon theme - but it's time we start "getting comfortable
with the uncomfortable"! This gathering is an important step in the right
I encourage you to ask Tony Martin about the Child Care
for a Change: Shaping the 21st Century conference in Winnipeg two weeks ago -
the first major policy gathering focusing on early childhood education in over
20 years. Tony spoke at the luncheon on November 13th
and it didn't take
long for the 650+ delegates to get the picture. This audience knows who and what
Tony Martin is all about, as he's served as Sault Ste. Marie's MPP for 13 years,
and now MP. You know what he's done to advance the poverty issue (The "People's
Parliament of Poverty" forums), and to save jobs/infrastructure here. You
also know about his commitment to child care (including his 10-city Pan-Canada
fact-finding tour earlier this fall), and so does Social Development Minister
At the conference, Tony said, "the stars are aligned now
for a national child care plan to finally happen: a minority government with a
central role for the NDP; the appointment of Dryden as minister; his appointment
of chief of staff Sandra Griffin, a leading child care advocate; the recent international
OECD report with its constructive criticism of Canada's patchwork system and the
recent federal-provincial initial agreement on a national plan." It does
appear the stars are aligned - that there's no going back - that the central debate
That's the good news - the bad news is that business wasn't well
represented at the conference. Yet, show me a leading CEO who doesn't believe
that cultivating, attracting and retaining top talent is a strategic priority.
Show me a leading CEO who doesn't get the connection between corporate responsibility
and building business, not to mention employee commitment.
Show me a leading
CEO who doesn't equate the value of business, government and community partnerships
with advancing the economic and social justice agenda. Generating a high level
of business interest in early learning and child care can help make the difference
in making the connections.
Business leaders need to step up to the plate
- it's as simple as that. And they need to hear and discuss research findings
- evidence. The contribution of early learning and child care to the creation
and nurturing of human capital cannot be ignored. Here's some research at work
that shows why investing in children is good economics and good business:
every $1 spent on child care there is a $2 economic benefit. The benefit comes
back through increased tax revenues, and decreased social, education and health
- "A child's brain development in the first six years
of life sets the foundation for lifelong learning, behaviour and health."
- "If the first few years of life include support for growth in cognition,
language, motor skills, adaptive skills and social-emotional functioning, the
child is more likely to succeed in school and later in society."
early childhood education produces "long-term positive outcomes and cost-savings
that include improved school performance, reduced special education placement,
lower school dropout rates, and increased lifelong earning potential. Employers
increasingly find that the availability of good early childhood programs is critical
to the recruitment and retention of parent employees."
estimated that work-life conflicts cost Canadian organizations roughly $2.7 billion
in lost time due to work absences."
More research can be found
on the Voices for Children web site - www.voicesforchildren.ca.
From Patchwork to Framework - Highlights of a Childcare Strategy for Canada,
produced by the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, is another great piece
Facts, figures, and return on investment are the kind
of language that business understands. And the message is simple: we all bear
a burden for failing to provide the "right start" to our children. We
need more business leaders to view early learning and child care as an economic
issue, not just an education or social issue. It's an important economic issue
because early learning and care enables parents to work, learn and train while
helping to prepare children for a brighter future. It's a wise investment in 2004
to ensure a competitive workforce and economy in 2014.
strategies for early learning and child care contributes to Canada's path to prosperity.
As such, why wouldn't innovative business leaders consider workplaces that employ
on-site/near-site child care centres, child care subsidies, after-school programs,
parental networks, information and referral services, job sharing, flexible hours
or extended parental leave/family care leaves? Why wouldn't innovative business
leaders encourage investments in targeted children's initiatives and representation
on children's advocacy boards?
And why wouldn't innovative business leaders
support partnerships with governments and communities - and the sharing of best
practices? These are all elements of a sound business strategy that develops human
capital, promotes a healthier workplace and sustains a competitive advantage.
Business has a key role to play in helping to nudge government action (at
all three levels) on early learning and child care issues - in helping to influence
public policy. Perhaps business - workplace employees - can also participate in
what could soon be Ottawa's "new Lego-land, if a campaign by advocates of
a national child care program starts to build momentum across the country."
"Supporters are urging Canadians to send politicians a piece of the
popular kids' toy in a symbolic move to ensure the building blocks of child care
and early childhood education aren't ignored when a proposed federal program rolls
out. The move comes after Minister Ken Dryden said he hopes the $5 billion over
five years the Liberals promised for child care in the election campaign can begin
flowing as early as this coming April." If anyone is interested in finding
out more about this campaign, let us know.
The Honourable Margaret McCain
(co-author of the Ontario Early Years Study) and I sent an Open Letter to
Minister Dryden on November 1, applauding his vision for an early learning and
child care system as the next great social initiative. Among several points, we
encouraged the provinces to rationalize their disconnected early education, child
care and parent support services to provide a stable platform for expansion. We
encouraged the raising of government standards for early learning and care programs
to promote quality and win public trust. And we also encouraged the development
of service plans with goals and timetables for expansion and quality enhancements
to hold governments accountable. The complete letter is available on the Atkinson
Charitable Foundation web site, www.atkinsonfoundation.ca.
such, we were pleased when a few days ago (November 25th), Dr. Marie Bountrogianni,
the Minister of Children and Youth Services announced that: "Ontario will
offer day care for all of the province's kindergarten-aged children by 2007. The
first of the 50,000 day-care spaces will be available by the beginning of the
next school year. The program is the first step in a 10- to 15-year plan to provide
province-wide day care for all children starting at age two-and-a-half. The government
will test that early-care model in three pilot projects before the end of its
mandate. The test projects will be conducted in three communities - one northern,
one rural and one urban." Would this group want Sault Ste. Marie to be on
the short list meeting place? If so, this question may be a timely conversation
with your MPP, David Orazietti
"Today we know that early learning
and child care is a social and economic driver for many interconnected issues:
it's integral to lifelong learning and healthy child development, and to a sound
and prosperous economy; it has significant implications for women's equality,
effective labour strategies, and ameliorating poverty; and it contributes to flourishing
cities and strengthens social equity. High-quality child care and early learning
strengthens our social foundations - it benefits children, women, parents, families,
and communities - ultimately, it benefits all Canadians."
evident this room is filled with people who demonstrate the value of leadership
in action and collaboration when it comes to children and partnership building
in this community. I can't help but better appreciate the power of the collective
voice plus the value of raising the volume and the bar when it comes to investing
From Dave Edgar, Pat Mick, Lou Turco, Melinda Fremlin, and Claire
Lafreniere, to Florence Lake, Kim Streich-Poser, Judy Tucci, Carole McPhee and
Art Bennett, there's leadership in action.
And from John Trecoce, Aldo
Greco and Jeff Viotto, to Barb Greensted, Bill Durnford, Bruce Strapp, Elizabeth
Bodnar, Maria Esposito, David Zuccato, Conrad Bobiwash, Peggy McLean, Joan Desjardins,
Jeff Avery and Louis Derrer, there's more leadership in action.
from Jim Crawford, Mary Ellen Luukonen, Connie Cantin, Jessica Bernhardt, Bob
Davies (I always single out the contribution of the police service), Peggy Wesselius,
Carla Fairbrother, Kim Seabrook and Mary Ellen Szadkowski, to Richard Rosset,
Debbie Rainone, Terry Rainone, Dale Godfrey, Richard Comeau and Guy Dumas, Sault
Ste. Marie has the leadership advantage. If only there was time to name everyone
- as each and every one of you is part of the collective voice. Susan Boston is
very much a part of this collective voice too - thank you Susan for inviting me
to the Sault, for coordinating my participation and for all that you do with and
through the Algoma Health Unit.
I must also take a moment to share the pride
as not only did the Chamber of Commerce present RBC's Bob Worth with the Chamber's
President's Award last month - an award that recognizes exceptional effort in
business and community development (and of course Bob is now in Kitchener), there's
a an exceptional team here that just amazes me. Steve Nixon, Rose Santoro, Donna
Hackett, Marcel Rizzo, Sam Rooney, Sandra Gaetano, Jill Douglas, Rick Sutton,
Terry Schug, Scott Reynolds, Susan Stefanizzi, Fred Frechette, Norm Sauve, Greg
Defelice, Josh Bowden, Lia Tesolin, Lori Naccarato-Sario, Karen Bird, Judy Paquin,
Susan McLean, Bev Szatanski, Alan Chattaway and Cain Hussey-Derrer are either
associated with the Chamber of Commerce, Easterseal Society-Council, St. Basils'
High School, the Lung Association, RotaryFest, Bon Soo Winter Carnival, Safe Community
Partnership, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Child Find, Kidshope, Family Support Community
for Habitat for Humanity, Rotary Club of Sault Ste. Marie, Hospital Foundation
Board, Kiwanis Club, the Enterprise Centre, Neighbourhood Watch, Batchewana First
Nation, the Review Entity Committee and the Lions Club Blind River. Talk about
community leadership in action! If I've missed anything, I'm sure Rose
will let me know - she too has been a great help in organizing my visit.
Early child development and care thrives on interdependence and collaboration
in order to work and work well - it requires leadership at all three levels of
government and business leadership at a high level. It's long overdue for the
business leadership voice to be heard in greater numbers. It's time we all get
with the program!
"In today's world, where education and skill
levels determine future earnings, the economic and social costs to individuals,
communities, and the nation of not taking action on early childhood education
are far too great to ignore, especially when the benefits far outweigh the costs."
As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child
so when igniting
the early learning and child care flame with collaborative solutions and leadership
in action, remember to count business in, as the "stars are aligned"!
Among other things Tony, thank you for the phrase
and thank you Mayor John
and all of you for the marvelous hospitality in the "naturally-gifted"
community of Sault Ste. Marie.
In closing, as author Kathy Davis says so
well: "A hundred years from now it will not matter what your bank account
was, or the kind of car you drove...but the world may be different because you
were important in the life of a child." Thank you!