It takes a province

Opinion By: Arthur Williams; Prince George Citizen

Getting through medical school and starting a practice has plenty of challenges – now imagine doing all that while pregnant and being a mother of a young family.

That was the reality for Dr. Sandra Wiebe, as she explained in Wednesday’s Citizen. But Wiebe is far from alone. According to statistics from the Canadian Medical Association, women have comprised 50 per cent or more of graduating medical students in Canada since 2001. Since 2005, approximately 58 per cent of new Canadian-trained doctors are women. Because graduating medical school requires a minimum of eight years of post-secondary training, young women interested in becoming a doctor will spend their prime childbearing years as overworked, impoverished, student-loaned-to-the-hilt medical students. How many women started down the road to becoming a doctor, but became pregnant and ended up delaying or not completing their training? Once a doctor graduates, she still faces the challenges of trying to balance work with raising a family – the difficulties of finding a locum doctor to cover maternity leaves, irregular hours, lack of quality childcare and so on….

And it’s not just doctors, but skilled professionals in all fields, where women are being forced to pause or give up their careers in order to raise young families.

In 2008 women made up 60 per cent of university graduates and 59.2 per cent of college graduates, according to Statistics Canada. Even in heavily-male-dominated areas such as electrical, industrial and mechanical trades, women comprised two to 3.5 per cent of new apprentices in 2007.

According to Statistics Canada, 28 per cent of two-parent families in 2010 had one parent staying at home. In 89 per cent of those families, it was the mother who stayed home. While 85 per cent of mothers were employed before they had children, only 64.4 per cent of mothers with children three years old or younger were in the workforce.

For mothers with children older than three, but younger than 16, 72.9 per cent were working.

That represents a loss of doctors, teachers, accountants, businesspeople, tradespeople, retail managers and many other skilled and unskilled workers from the labour pool. While some of those families may have made a conscious choice to have one parent stay home to raise the kids, for others it was not so much a choice as a necessity.

With child care for preschool age children averaging $700 to $854 per month per child (and $900 for infants) in B.C. – if available at all – it’s easy to see why some families simply can’t afford to have mom go back to work. While not a parental panacea, affordable, accessible child care can go a long way to making it easier for mothers of young children to stay in the workforce. And for students, low-income families and Canada’s 1.4 million single-parent families (of which, 1.13 million are single mothers) it’s crucial.

In March a coalition of nine Canadian public-and private-sector unions launched the Rethink Child Care campaign to call for the creation of publicly-funded child care systems in all provinces, similar to the one in Quebec. And in 2011 the Coalition of Child Care Advocates and the Early Childhood Educators of B.C. released a report calling for the creation of an accessible, public child care system with a maximum fee of $10 per day – at the not insignificant cost to provincial taxpayers of $1.5 billion per year.

But, back in the 19th century, Canadians realized that funding public and post-secondary education benefits society as a whole.

In the 20th century Canadians decided that ensuring all citizens have equal access to health care, regardless of economic status, makes a healthier and stronger country. It’s now the 21st century, and it is time for British Columbians and Canadians to realize that ensuing equal and affordable access to child care for all families will pay social dividends for all. It once took a village to raise a child, today it takes a province.