Chairman's Desk

We are not having enough babies and that’s a problem for all us

It’s not rocket science.

Ensure families have access to affordable, high-quality child care and guess what? You get drastically better outcomes. Not just for kids, who get a fair start in life, but also for parents, who can return to the workforce far earlier and with greater confidence.

For those, like myself, who advocated for the national $10-a-day child care strategy for years, achieving these results was never driven by short-term political calculus. We understood that the true impact of this policy would unfold over decades, not just in months or years; that politics, at its best, is one generation making and keeping a promise to the next.

Alarmingly, of late, that promise has shattered.

Since the Government of Canada and all 10 provinces signed agreements to reach $10-a-day child care, demand has surged — far outpacing the creation of new spaces for it. In many regions, new families are now faced with mounting wait-lists of Kafkaesque absurdity. Your child graduated middle school? Terrific! A space at the local daycare just opened up.

What makes this failure even more concerning is that it does not exist in isolation. It’s part of a far wider trend of economic pressures facing young families. And that pressure has contributed to a plummeting national fertility rate, now at an all-time low of 1.33 children per woman.

The first step toward addressing this problem is acknowledging its gravity. Demographic math says that to replenish our population, the fertility rate must rise to 2.1 children per woman. Working toward that rate helps avoid the dreaded inverted population pyramid.

In other words, a structural imbalance that invariably leads to collapse, where we have too many retired seniors and not enough working age Canadians to fuel our economy. Japan is the textbook example, where experts predict economic doom due to a chronically low fertility rate and a ballooning elderly population.

But let’s be clear. Realistically, Canada’s fertility rate alone won’t be raised high enough to get the number of people we need — immigration will always be part of the conversation.

However, in light of the current immigration challenges facing our country, believing that we can rely solely on mass immigration to replace our population and ignoring our fertility rate is utterly nonsensical. It’s like trying to fill a bucket with a large hole in the bottom — no matter how much water we pour in, we’ll never achieve a sustainable level if we don’t first address the factors behind the leak.

The second step is framing this issue correctly. Although it cannot and should not be divorced from it, fertility is not solely a women’s health issue. Nor should our policy to address it be seen exclusively through this lens.

To acquire the correct framing, we simply need to listen — because young couples who want kids are telling us exactly why they’re not: they can’t afford it. The bottom line is that Canadians will either have no children, or less of them, if they cannot afford a home, let alone diapers.

Therefore, the third step must be to enhance incentives and support for fertility health care. Polls show a majority of Canadians support more incentives, such as tax credits, to encourage childbirth. However, these measures won’t count if couples can’t conceive.

On this front, we need stronger funding for IVF, which many Canadians rely on despite its high costs, particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community. While seven provinces, including Ontario, offer some fertility funding, substantial increases are crucial to boost our fertility rate.

We also cannot forget that male infertility rates have rapidly risen. And this lack of knowledge often results in the burden of male fertility unfairly falling on women.

The decision to have children or not is deeply personal and varies by circumstance, but Canadians who want children have been crystal clear: they need greater support. And in a year where the conversation has largely been about a broken immigration system, we have overlooked this crucial piece in our national demographic planning.

Addressing this oversight and bolstering support for young families are imperative to ensure the well-being of not only this generation but all those to come.

This article first appeared in Toronto Star on May 5, 2024.

Read More