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climate change panel

The politics of childcare

Trevor Pritchard, Freelancer

It might not have been the make-or-break issue in the 2011 federal election, but at one point or another along the campaign trail, all the major parties talked about their plans to improve childcare.

And when they did, they often framed their policies as being good for Canada’s families. That rhetoric certainly didn’t strike me as anything unusual - after all, who’d argue that families wouldn’t be better off with improved access to daycare? - but as I learned after chatting with Lisa Pasolli, the argument wasn’t always put in those terms.

Pasolli is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Victoria, and she’s been studying childcare activism in British Columbia in the 1960s and 1970s. She finds it “fascinating,” she tells me, how daycare was once politicized as a women’s rights issue.

“Daycare [has long] been considered in sort of this ‘family and children’s services’ area of policy development,” Pasolli tells me. “And I am interested in the moments when activists said, ‘You can’t separate these two issues.’”

As part of a panel on May 31 on the history of second-wave feminism in Canada, Pasolli presented her research on how feminist activism shaped and influenced the childcare movement to Congress 2011.

On one occasion, says Pasolli, mothers and their children staged a sit-in in the offices of the then-NDP provincial government, protesting their failure to keep their childcare-based campaign promises. During the 11-day protest, the women sang Pete Seeger songs and converted the bureaucrats’ desks into impromptu changing tables. Other groups of women took matters into their own hands by creating so-called “childcare co-ops” in the Simon Fraser University cafeteria.

At the time in B.C., childcare activism was “really intrinsic” to the feminist struggle, says Pasolli. But gradually the debate shifted to be more focused upon family rights than women’s rights, she adds.

“I don’t know if that was a strategic move -  if they thought that was the way government was going to pay more attention, because the government wasn’t receptive to the ‘feminist reordering of society’ argument,” she says.

“That’s a question I’m still working on.”

Photo courtesy of elvisjohn from Flickr


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