It's hard to imagine someone could be running a country (in the middle of a global crisis, no less) while taking care of their children without any help, but that is what Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is up to these days.
After his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, was diagnosed with COVID-19 she isolated herself away from the PM and their three children, 11-year-old Ella-Grace, 6-year-old Hadrien, and 12-year-old Xavier. The nannies were told to stay away as the PM's household went into self-isolation to prevent the spread of the virus. Suddenly, Justin Trudeau was solo parenting without any help while leading a country through a crisis.
And when a world leader is late to a conference call because his 6-year-old's bath didn't go as quickly as planned, it makes international news.
A world leader working from home with no staff while his three kids chill in the background is not normal (because this pandemic stole our normal). But hopefully, when we do get back to something closer to normal we remember this time. Hopefully Trudeau and other powerful men in Canada (and around the world) remember what it was like to parent and work without childcare.
Before COVID-19 changed our world Motherly frequently reported on the high cost of childcare in the United States, where having just one kid in day care can cost parents around $3,000 in some cities, a cost that makes working prohibitive for some parents.
Canadian parents, too, were struggling with sky-high childcare costs pre-pandemic (and many still are struggling to pay for child care they are not using because they don't want to lose their spot).
Parents in Vancouver and Toronto spend upwards of $2,000 for day care for one child, making the cost of childcare comparable to a mortgage payment and across the country the average is $1,000 a month. Meanwhile, Canadian childcare workers are struggling with extremely low wages, especially in areas where provincial grants meant to attract and keep staff were recently cut, or where pilot projects to reduce fees recently ended.
Just a few short years ago it looked like solutions were on the horizon in Canada: In 2017 Justin Trudeau offered billion-dollar investments in childcare at the federal level, Alberta rolled out a $25 a day care pilot that looked promising, and BC voters were promised $10 a day childcare—but three years later Alberta's pilot ended just before the pandemic hit, Ontario parents saw provincial cuts result in more expensive day care bills, and BC is still a long, long way from universal childcare (just ask a Vancouver couple who pay almost $4,000 a month to keep three kids in day care).
The issue of staggering childcare costs in Canada is largely ignored in international coverage of the country, or even worse, Quebec's affordable childcare scheme is mislabeled as a Canadian solution, suggesting that the entire nation has access to what Quebec's parents do (a month of day care for under $200). But Canadian parents outside of Quebec struggle every day to afford childcare and mothers bear the brunt of this financial burden. The median income for a woman between 25 and 54 in Canada is $40,000 (the median income for men in the same age group is about $13,000 more). For a woman who takes home $3,333 a month, a $2,000 day care bill is a significant burden and a perfectly understandable reason for dropping out of the workforce.
In 2016, when Justin Trudeau was not yet the Prime Minister but was on the campaign trail, he was asked repeatedly about affordable childcare, particularly the need for a national universal childcare solution—something Canada still does not have.
Targeted investments from Trudeau's government meant to create more childcare spaces have had little impact on the day care bills of the average Canadian mother.
As Brock University Brock University's Kate Bezanson, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, and Associate Dean of Social Sciences, argued in research published in the Journal of Law and Equality, the lack of a universal childcare system in Canada "leaves the biggest lever for women's economic participation largely untouched."
Within Canada, Bezanson and others have criticized Trudeau's Liberals for often claiming to be "feminist government" without creating meaningful policy changes that live into that label, including developing universal childcare as a public good, but Trudeau is often held up as an example of male feminism on the international stage.
Right now, Canada's PM is getting a lot of good press, news coverage that is creating a warm and fuzzy (and not undue) super dad narrative, as he can be overheard telling his kids "Daddy's on an important phone call right now," while leading his nation through a crisis. Trudeau's caring, feminist reputation, tarnished in the last couple years within his own country, is recovering its former sheen on the world's stage.
It is awesome that Trudeau is making this work. He's setting an example of social distancing and is leading his country in more ways than one right now. And he's showing the world that dads aren't helpers, they are full, capable parents. His personal commitment to social distancing and fatherhood can be a valuable example to other men leading nations and households through this crisis. Being a caregiver and a nurturer is just as important as being strong right now, but nurturing is often seen as a mother's responsibility and mothers feel undervalued and unsupported in our society.
It's understandable that Trudeau is not pondering universal childcare right now, but as crisis mode gives way to post-pandemic planning it is so important that he does, not just as Canada's Prime Minister but as a man who can inspire other leaders and nations. When the Trudeaus and the rest of Canada gets through this trying time, when workplaces and schools eventually reopen and the economy can function again, Canada is going to need its women in the workforce more than ever. And the best way to get parents working is to give them affordable childcare. Quebec has proved this. Canada can prove this to the world.
Trudeau has previously said "Access to affordable and quality child care is too often a barrier for many Canadians who struggle with the need to work or return to school. That is not right."
Months from now many parents are going to be struggling to return to work or school, and for the sake of mothers across his country, I hope Justin Trudeau doesn't forget what it is like to try to work without childcare.