Excerpts From Oral History Interview

As part of the large, multi-phase research project, 52 long-time child care advocates were interviewed. Their interviews were transcribed and deposited with CCAAC and the Canadian Women’s Movement Archives at the University of Ottawa, where they are a resource for researchers.

Below, we have selected excerpts from five interviews. From these voices, a wide range of issues and perspectives emerges. What also comes through is the importance of citizen involvement and social movement organizing.

  • Alice Taylor is an early childhood educator and centre director, living and working in Prince Edward Island, where she is active in professional ECE issues.
  • Dixie Lee Van Raalte is a child care consultant, with long experience working with First Nations communities.
  • Katie Cooke lives in Victoria, where she retired after a long career in civil service. She is best known for her work as Chair of the federal Task Force on Child Care.
  • Martha Friendly is Coordinator of the Child Care Resource and Research Unit at the University of Toronto, and a leading Canadian child care policy researcher.
  • Howard Clifford is a retired federal civil servant who worked on child care. His best known advocacy initiative was a cross-Canada bicycle trip to promote public awareness of child care.

The excerpts are presented as text transcribed from the interviews, and as MP3 format audio files.

Alice Taylor

Alice Taylor lives and works in Prince Edward Island. On December 11, 2000, when Alice was 57, she was interviewed by telephone by Debra Mayer, who recorded the following conversation. They talked about a number of matters of concern, including the relationship of staffing and quality of care, and how concerns for staff and training relate to advocacy. The following excerpts come from that interview, which lasted for over an hour.

listen to clip 1 1:41 854KB

listen to clip 2 1:47 904KB

“Currently there is a requirement that at least two people in any centre need to have early childhood education and training. They need to have a diploma; that’s the legislation. What we’re finding is that the field here is in crisis. Previously most centres had all trained staff, even though the requirement was that they had two. We did have in excess of 80% of all people who were working in child care in the province with their early childhood training or an equivalent training. Now [the] unofficial estimate is that it’s running between 50% and 60%. So we are actually losing people in droves in this field, in this province. What’s happening is that the Child Care Facilities Board, the board that oversees the regulations in this province, is making exceptions all over the place because there aren’t any trained people to hire!”

“What needs to happen are a number of things. Actually what I’d like to see happen is this: for somebody to have the courage to sort of throw it all in the centre of the table and say, ‘Okay, we’ve got the system; we’ve got lots of people who are supporting children and families; but we don’t have any coordination of any of it.” We need to start from the bottom up, really look at who does what, and how can we support each other? [We have talked to the Minister] about getting a comprehensive early childhood system in place. This system would look at health professionals and other professionals, such as psychologists and early childhood educators and whoever is involved with children and families. We need better wages and working conditions. We need money in the early childhood field. And we need that fast. But we also need supports in the field. I don’t think that money alone is going to solve our problem. I think people have been struggling so long, scratching out a subsistence living, that we need support services in the field to help people get back on track.”

Dixie Lee van Raalte

Dixie van Raalte lives in New Brunswick. On December 4, 2000, she was interviewed by telephone by Debra Mayer. The following excerpt comes from that interview. In the selection, Dixie is speaking about her long-time experience in child care development work with First Nations communities and her views on child care advocacy.

listen to clip 1 3:34 1,743KB

listen to clip 2 0:59 531KB

“I was part of the National Committee that worked on the First Nations Inuit Childcare Initiative and got it to Treasury Board. I worked with the 3 largest bands in New Brunswick, plus I worked for one band in Newfoundland, and I’ve worked for an Innu community in Labrador. There is a community that I work for in northern, northern Quebec. I do their outside consulting manager position for that centre while I train two women from the community to take over the directorship of the centre.

Basically, once First Nations Inuit Childcare Initiative was announced centres or communities were receiving money to build and have their childcare centres. Within those communities they had some people who knew a lot about child care as far as what they wanted, what their vision was, etc. What they needed was just someone to help them take that down the road, pull it all together and come up with a plan, then implement the plan….

I hold with the premise that the people in the First Nations community – it’s their childcare centre, and therefore they must take ownership for it. So what I do is I go in and I usually bring together a community committee. And have this community committee start working on surveys, etc, so that we can get a vision from within the community of what people want, what the families want, what the political powers want, how we can link with the other programs within those communities. And at times you have to do various pieces of advocacy, because you’ll always have people who say “Why do we need a childcare centre? Or, Why do we need daycare in our community? Or, What is the centre going to do for our families?, or What are the benefits?”

Inevitably, I found myself holding community meetings in those areas where I worked to discuss high quality childcare. What is it? How do you get it? What do you do with it once you’ve got it? How do you sustain it?

I always had people within the community talk about what they would see as the ten most important pieces within those centres that they thought were predictors of high quality. And it’s very exciting to see that no matter what culture you’re in, the predictors come back as the same things. They want high quality trained staff; they want an open door policy; they want appropriate practices; appropriate equipment and materials. They want all the same kinds of things that we’ve talked about for years. No matter where I go. And people just have different ways of voicing it, but it all comes out to be the same thing.”

“I can remember years ago, when I first went to Ottawa, I thought that advocating meant going out and lobbying and marching and being in there — really pounding; marching with those placards, and all of that kind of stuff. But then, over the years, it just becomes that piece of you. In every project and in every piece that you do, every proposal you write, every project that you implement in First Nations, every piece I implement in Innu communities, is advocacy. So, when somebody asks me to put down a title…. I put ‘child care advocate.’ I mean, that’s what I am!”

Katie Cooke

Katie Cooke, Chair of the well-known Task Force on Child Care, lives in Victoria. On March 4, 2000, she was interviewed in-person by Susan Prentice. At the time of the interview, Katie was 80 years old. In a wide-ranging interview, they covered many topics. In the excerpts below, Katie reflects on the origins and outcomes of the Task Force, and what advocates need to do to to change public policy.

listen to clip 1 1:07 596KB

listen to clip 2 0:46 427KB

listen to clip 3 1:28 757KB

Susan: Why did the Task Force get started?

Katie: “The reason it got started was because, if you recollect, there was going be an election — because Pierre Trudeau went walking in the snow and said ‘I’m resigning.’ John Turner came in and said ‘We’ll have an immediate election, clear the air, and win the election…’

Well, Judy Erola who was Minister Responsible for Status of Women and Mines, had wanted to have a Task Force on Child Care. She was a single mother herself, so she had some idea of the problems. Because of the upcoming election, they [the Liberals] needed a platform, they have to have a platform. And so they said, ‘All right, go ahead. Here’s a little bit of money and have a Task Force.’

“The Task Force having been set up, nobody [paid] any attention to it because we lost our Liberal government and our Minister. The Tories ran around for six months without having a clue what they were doing, which happens.

And so nobody paid any attention to us, and we decided we were going to do it right. … I was very happy to get some decent research out, research that people could use.

Did I think the Tory government was going to really listen? No, I didn’t think so.”

Susan: It’s now the year 2000. Your report came out 14 years ago. And there’s been not much progress — I believe — at the national levels.

Katie: I don’t think there will be at the national level.

Susan: So here comes the question. What do you think will happen? If policy changes do occur, and it won’t be the national level, where it be?

Katie: It’s got to be started at the provincial level.

Susan: What about provinces that don’t have money to do that?

Katie: Well, this is where if you’ve got child advocacy, child care advocacy groups – for heaven’s sake, let them pay more attention to their home province!

Susan: Rather than the national level?

Katie: Yes! And point out what the drawbacks [of federal control] are. I mean there’s the whole problem of regional differences. If you talk about anything that’s universal, you wind up with somebody in an ivory tower sending out regulations for child care centres which are going to be totally inapplicable in a fishing outport in Newfoundland. It won’t work!

Martha Friendly

On March 2, 2001, Martha Friendly, of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit at the University of Toronto in Ontario was interviewed in-person by Susan Prentice. In the excerpts below, Martha comments on the child care advocacy movement. In one place, she specifically addresses the meaning of being Canadian, something she is sensitive to as an immigrant from the United States.

listen to clip 1 5:08 2,478KB

listen to clip 2 2:15 1,123KB

Martha: I think the advocacy movement has done a really good job, actually…. In general, I think the advocacy childcare movement has been fantastic. And do you want me to talk a bit about that?

Susan: Sure, I do.

Martha: First of all, the childcare movement has really done its homework. You know, really built the intellectual infrastructure, particularly in the last decade. Like all of this research and how the research is used, and getting documentation — it speaks back to the issue of ‘why is it not a feminist issue anymore?’

Well, child care has made lots of new alliances. It has really made alliances with people. It used to be the feminist movement and the labour movement. I mean, they were really important. The labour movement, I think, has been a major partner in the childcare advocacy and achieved things that would have been hard to achieve otherwise. But the child care advocacy movement has made other alliances.

There wasn’t a real anti-poverty movement until the 1990’s, the end of the 1980s.. And childcare wasn’t an issue for the anti-poverty movement. I can remember talking about NAPO [National Anti Poverty Organization] about this back in the 1980’s. So that’s another alliance. It’s not the sole alliance — and I think that the childcare movement helped the anti-poverty movement have a position that childcare should be universal. All of these other kind of folks like doctors and people who are interested in childcare for a variety of reasons, have become real allies.

Susan: So it sounds like you’re saying that one of the real strengths of he childcare movement beyond doing their homework is broadening out-

Martha: It really broadened out and I think-

Susan: A pool of alliance.

Martha: Pool of alliances, and I think that that brings problems that have to be dealt with, about interpretation and all sorts of things like that. But I actually think the childcare movement — but maybe I’m saying this because I’m part of the childcare movement! — but I think it’s done a really good job.

I think the childcare movement in general has taken on issues: they’re willing to take on issues. It’s made a lot of political links…. it hasn’t restricted it to only being about early childhood education. You know, that’s why the childcare movement is much broader than early childhood education, which is a part of it. But it’s broader than that. So I don’t think it’s because the childcare movement hasn’t been good. I think the childcare movement has been a really good movement, actually.

Susan: Are you interested in my observation that the Pauline Marois story [told earlier, about recent changes in Quebec] could lead someone to think all we need is a Great Man/Great Woman Theory of Social Change?

Martha: No, no, no, no. I don’t believe that, no because I didn’t mean that. What I mean is I said-

Susan: I struggle with this myself: if it wasn’t this Minister, but that Minister, then things could look very different….

Martha: Well, sometimes, that it actually does make a difference. I could give you examples of that right here in Ontario. Situationally. The context and the political climate and the economic and social climate is really important. But sometimes — let me give you an example of this.

When the NDP was elected in Ontario, there was — at first — it was really, really exciting. They embraced what the childcare advocates asked for immediately. I mean like it was immediately. And we thought “well, we’re going to work this through with –

Susan: Slam dunk-

Martha: Well, no, no, no. What happened, in my opinion, was that it moved forward very slowly — because the Minister who was responsible for it, didn’t move it forward.

Susan: Was that Marion [Boyd]?

Martha: No it was before Marion. It was Zanana Okande. This was very disappointing, there were lots of things that happened. And because it was slow, it wasn’t exactly that it was opposed but it didn’t move. It didn’t move.

Then things really turned really bad in the economy and then people got converted to you know the idea that we were going to ‘hit the debt wall’ and ‘shooting the hippo’ and all that kind of stuff. I know that that’s what happened. And then they backed off on it.

And interestingly, I know also that it [child care] was still carried up until the — championed still by the man who ended up being the Minister, Tony Silipo. He kept pushing it.

What I’m trying to say is: it’s a combination. And sometimes a person — if the climate is right — can kind of overcome. And sometimes they won’t. But I do think that having a champion makes a really big difference.

I don’t mean this in a sappy way. But, I have taken up in the last ten years a lot about what it means to be a Canadian. I took seriously what it means to become a Canadian citizen.

And one of the things it seems to me that it means, is that — whether you live in Newfoundland, or in Quebec, or in Manitoba — you should have the same rights as a citizen. I mean that quite strongly: I do think that that’s the kinds of thing that holds countries together. And it has to do with human rights — and all those things that are in the preamble to SUFA [Social Union Framework Agreement], by the way, which I think are really important.

So how does that happen? Well it doesn’t happen by just going around and convincing local school boards that it’s good to put childcare in. I’ve always been quite scornful of American (or what stands in for public policy in the United States) which is all about how ‘this community did this’ and ‘Seattle did that’ and ‘this one did that.’ I’m not saying that those are bad things. But it’s not a policy framework.

I still believe that Canada is in the UN and has a flag. And that it’s a really bad thing to completely balkaniz the country. I didn’t immigrate to Ontario, I immigrated to Canada. And if I want to move to British Columbia or my kids move to British Columbia, they should have childcare also.

I don’t mean that to be sappy, but it’s sort of is linked to it. Some of the Liberals have had this idea of national projects — well there is something in that. I think that there is some real value in it, …. all this stuff about the national railway and the ‘last spike’ –

There is something in it. I mean people aren’t just taxpayers, right? How has my vision of child care changed? When I moved here, I didn’t even know who Sir John A. MacDonald was. Over time we learn this stuff.

Susan: What criteria would you use? how would advocates know if they’re making a difference? I mean you’re an advocate, you’re defined as one: How do you know? how do you assess?

Martha: Well the simplest criteria, is does the policy change?

Susan: Well by that standard, we should be depressed!

Martha: You know I have to tell you what my mother said to me on some occasion. I don’t when — this was a number of years ago. She had been up visiting and I had written some brief or a paper that she read — I always give her my papers to read. And then she said to me, a couple of months later, “Well, did the government put your proposals into place yet?” And I thought: from her lips to God’s ears! (Laughs)

So that would be really simple.

Another way to look at it is, do your ideas become part of the mainstream? Do you change — and I don’t only mean public opinion polling, because I think that’s iffy. Public opinion polling is a bit dodgy — but public opinion.

Finally, sometimes people tell you that things are effective….

Howard Clifford

Howard Clifford lives in Ottawa, retired after a long career as a civil servant involved with child care. In 1992, he bicycled across Canada to raise the profile of child care. In this November 1, 2000 telephone interview with Debra Mayer, he recollects how the idea for the cross-country advocacy road trip began. Sadly, the tape quality is fuzzy.

listen to the audio clip 3 0:45 2,712KB

Howard: It was sort of funny, just daydreaming, just fantasies — half calculating, but not serious. And I remember getting on the phone with the Canadian Advocacy Association and Martha Friendly. At the time I was saying “What would you think of me going across Canada on a bicycle for childcare?” She started to laugh. We were sounding pretty ridiculous. And so I said, I kept saying “I’m crazy, eh?” She said, “Well no, just a second. Just think: Mr. Daycare hits the road for childcare.”

She [Martha] said “If you’re serious, our Association would be supportive in terms of lining up who want to know you’re coming, and stuff.” I was still not really serious.

Then, I was at in Ottawa, and there was a conference of some kind — I forget just what it was now…. [I was talking with Sandy Griffin] and I said “What about this? What do you think? She said “We’re going to be having a conference in the end of April. If you’re going do this, we’ll have you as a guest speaker. We’ll be the kick-off for it!”

So every place I turned around people were saying “Oh yes. Go for it!”

So pretty soon I found myself in the situation where I reluctantly going — but didn’t even know what you were getting yourself into!

Debra: What year would this have been, Howard?

Howard: 1992. I can still tell you a couple of funny stories. I was figuring out just on the map: how many days do you have? how far do you have to go each day? We figured out you had to average 64 kilometres a day to make it in time. If you stayed a day over, or something, you had to make that up.

So I got on my bicycle. I only went about 20 kilometers there and back, which is only about a third of the way — and I was dead!

So, I said, maybe I’ll start on the weekends to get in shape. And so the next weekend when I was about to start on a long trek, it snowed!

So then a daycare group in Carleton Place (just outside of Ottawa) invited me to speak. They were going to have an official send-off, too. I rode there by bicycle and back and that was exactly the same distance: 64 kilometres. I was just dead when I got back. I thought to myself: I’ve got to get up in the morning and do this over again!

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