Transcript: Birch Proposals: The Early Fight for Child Care Quality

Introduction: In June,1974 Margaret Birch, Provincial Secretary for Social Development delivered to the legislature a proposal to change Ontario’s licensing requirements designed, in their words, to “develop and operate less expensive day care services”. The proposals included reductions in required staff-child ratios; elimination of the requirements for formal qualifications for all staff but supervisors; elimination of the requirement that day nurseries have kitchens on their premises; and altered licensing procedures pertaining to the physical standards of day nurseries.
The entire day care community across the province of Ontario rose up in opposition. They thought that the policy would result in much reduced quality in day care centres. They also suspected that Margaret Birch had been heavily lobbied by a new day care chain just entering the province at the time, Mini-Skools. In order to increase its profits, Mini-Skools were well known for advocating for reduced staff-child ratios, staff qualifications and other quality day care regulations.
In this interview, Julie Mathien and Susan Caldwell, two of the activists and members of the Daycare Reform Alliance at the time, recall their victorious campaign. They recount the events that led up to the announcement, the response from the Ontario day care community and the subsequent actions that were taken until the onerous proposals were completely dropped by the provincial government. As they also point out, this event marked the beginning of a mass day care movement in Ontario and it should also be noted that the provincial government has not since tried to tamper with Ontario’s day care regulations for high quality – yet!
Sue Colley: Hello, my name is Sue Colley and I’m with Rise Up! Feminist Digital Archive, and today I’m interviewing Julie Mathien and Susan Caldwell about their experiences in a moment in the history of the Women’s Movement that we are describing today; and that moment is the campaign against the Birch proposals, and that was a struggle that began as long ago as June, 1974, when Margaret Birch, who was the Provincial Secretary for Social Development Ontario made Sweeping Proposals to lower the quality of care, daycare, as we’d called it then, in Ontario under the guise of making it much cheaper. And so maybe, Julie, you could start by telling us exactly what these Birch proposals were and sort of where they came from.
Julie Mathien: Well, they came from an interesting place, sort of – there’s a dotted line connection. Susan, I don’t know if you remember, but in the spring of ’74 the Daycare Organizing Committee, which Susan and I both worked for, had been organising child care in Toronto for the last couple of years. Susan worked on it before I did. I joined the Daycare Organizing Committee when I left Campus Community Cooperative and we had been advocating for more and better child care, and also a lot of parent choice. Child care centres at the time were – many of them were quite institutional – in that parents didn’t have a lot of say about what went on in their child’s day, and that the coop child care, as opposed to the coop nursery school movement was really, very much, grounded in parent participation and parent choice of child care, not parent choice for anything. So that had been part of our advocacy. Parents needed to be involved – and we had a meeting. We had a meeting, where it was a seminar – Saturday morning seminar. So we invited a whole lot of people who were interested in child care.
So it would’ve been people working in social welfare, people working in co-ops now, parents and staff, and people who were also in other organisations. You know, I’m sort of speculating here, but I think people like Barbara Cameron were probably there and Betty Burcher and people like that, and we had – and somebody from the provincial government came, some policy analyst from the provincial government came, and I can remember him saying – because we’d been advocating for – they sort of took it the wrong way – for more flexibility in child care. This policy analyst said: “Oh, and we have an announcement that’s going to come out in the next six weeks or so, that we think is going to make you very happy.”
Sue Colley: Oh, I see. So that was the first clue you had, hey?
Julie Mathien: It was, like OK – this should be interesting, all right. OK, right. So then we went – Tom and I went off to England for a trip and I was in Canada House, about two days before we were supposed to come back, and read the Globe and Mail. The announcement was there. And I read it and went uh-oh, uh-oh. This is – it’s going to be really busy when I get back, I can tell. And by the time I got back Susan had already rolled up her sleeves and started organising the connections that we developed through the Daycare Organizing Committee.
Sue Colley: OK.
Julie Mathien: Which had been set up by Campus Committee Cooperative.
Sue Colley: OK, so what were these proposals that you read in the Globe and Mail?
Julie Mathien: OK, so the proposals were reductions in the requirement for staff child ratios and group sizes; reductions in –
Sue Colley: That means, like fewer staff to more children?
Julie Mathien: Fewer children to more kids. So I think it was for infants. I think it went from one to three to one to six.
Sue Colley: Oh yeah.
Julie Mathien: So some of it was really hugely problematic. And then some changes in requirements for physical things and also – to make it easier to cater for food – so the requirement for a kitchen was proposed as well. I think that people’s main concern was the group sizes and staff child ratios, as I recall. And so that was so the policy analyst who told us, ahead of time, that this was coming down the pipe and he thought we’d like it. He really did, literally, disappear from view. We never, ever saw him or heard from him ever again.
Sue Colley: I wonder why. That’s interesting. So Susan, what were you rolling up your sleeves and doing at this time, while Julie was still in Canada House in London?
Susan Caldwell: Well, you’ve got to realise that – let me backup just a second, to say — that the way I got involved with this whole thing was getting involved with the infant daycare centre at the University of Toronto that was called Sussex, OK? And there was Sussex, like you said. And so you had been involved – if you had your child there you did – both male and female, all parents, did their shifts there. So do you remember the Local Initiative Program that came out in the 1972, ’73 –
Susan Caldwell: Uh-huh. Well, essentially they wrote up a project, and it was Jackie Larkin and myself who were hired to do the Daycare Organizing Committee. So Julie came after Jackie went on and did something else, but Julie came after – so I was already involved in the cooperative movement there, and by this time we had also had Sussex – an infant daycare centre. There was Devonshire, which was for over 2’s, and we had taken over the building, because the University of Toronto would not grant us any space. So when she says I’m rolling up my sleeves, I was involved as a parent, but also as an organiser in one of the most active cooperative daycare centres that – you know, that was happening with a lot of activists in it; so it is very much not just meeting other people, it’s taking your own people and standing up and starting to do stuff. Does that make sense?
Sue Colley: Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah. So, OK … All right, now – so OK, these proposals were announced, as you described them Julie, and – so what was the first reaction? What did you and the Daycare Organizing Committee, as one of the bodies organising around this, what exactly did you do? Can you tell us about the campaign and what the steps were and what was involved in the process?
Julie Mathien: OK. As I said, when I got there Sue had already – Susan, rather, had already made a whole bunch of contacts, both at Campus Community Cooperative, which was also Sussex and Devonshire, and also – we had other people who especially the cooperative child care centres which were new and few at that point – had made contacts with each other. So we had contacts there. We had contacts there. So there were places like Northwest CommuniCare in Hamilton. There was St Andrews, who we’d got to know through the fight with U of T over the space. There was a place called Snowflake, on McCaul Street. There was a daycare in the West End Y by that point.
So there were a whole bunch of community-based, either coops or non – just plain non-profits, and then there was the good old Grace-Carman United Church. Do you remember – Susan, you remember Grace-Carman? That was the one daycare that we tried to start up that had a brief and difficult life.
Susan Caldwell: Didn’t go right.
Julie Mathien: Yeah, right. And so there were people in there who were – I would call them activists at that point. I mean, the coop or non-profit child care movement, at that point, was fairly political. And so there were people – I’m trying to think, like Pat, for example, Schultz was involved because she’d been involved in the sit-in in Devonshire. So there were people like the feminist organisations who had become interested in child care. As you know there were some very good papers written at the time. And so the first thing we did – so this is – we’re talking June here, and by this time we were talking, I’d say probably mid-June, by the time we got back from England, and stuff was already starting on the ground.
But do you remember we planned a big meeting at OISE, at the auditorium at OISE? And so we managed to get someone to finagle us some free space, using the auditorium for free, and I can remember – we were good – we knew how to organise speakers. We knew how to talk to the media. We knew that sort of stuff, so we did all that kind of work. We had buckets available to pass around so people could put in contributions, because we were going to need money. Susan and I actually operated as paid staff, until our funding got cut off and Susan moved up. I remember that night because people started streaming into OISE. And we had only asked for half of the auditorium, because there’s a big foldable wooden divide, so that they could divide the place in half.
And so we had only asked for the front half. I mean, how many people were we going to get, you know, really? And I can remember walking up the aisle with Pat Redican, just to sort of see what was going on, and we realised that there were people sitting behind that barrier, behind the barrier that cut off the auditorium in half and we went whoa, whoa. So we managed to –
Sue Colley: How many people do you think the auditorium holds?
Julie Mathien: A couple of hundred.
Sue Colley: Yeah and so half of it would be about a hundred, right?
Julie Mathien: Yeah. But we thought a hundred, you know, that should do it. And so we managed to brow beat, basically, a security guard into pulling that divide aside. He said you only asked for half. I said we need the whole thing. And we filled the auditorium that night. It was absolutely amazing. But fortunately we had people sign in and so we had contact information and stuff like that; I remember being really surprised at the amount of interest that this generated within the child care community, and even – I mean, we even had people who were there from nursery schools and stuff as well. So it was pretty – yeah.
Sue Colley: That’s great. So then you obviously wrote briefs, you had pamphlets. Did you actually contact the ministry at that time to raise the problems with the proposals?
Julie Mathien: Yes.
Sue Colley: Do you remember anything else Susan or –
Susan Caldwell: No, I was going to come back to the opposition to the proposals that didn’t come from just the cooperative movement. The people who, in the real daycare – I mean, the funded daycare system – the provincial funded daycare system, they really thought this was a bad idea. So we weren’t just calling upon, you know, our political buddies and all this sort of stuff. It was a widespread recognition that this was going to really hurt the quality of daycare. You were just – you were turning daycare into something else. It wasn’t about being good for the kids. It wasn’t about being positive. It was just about keeping them quiet during the day or something, or taking care of them.
And that was a really important thing. If we linked with and got supported by the already existing daycare centres, not just the cooperative ones that we were trying to establish and that we would connect with. I just want to raise that. It wasn’t just us. It was much broader – almost everyone who was – even some of the private daycare centres that we happen to know, for a variety of reasons. Yes, they might have saved a little money, but they knew it wouldn’t be a good daycare for their kids. You know, they were willing to pay the staff for what it should be doing.
So that ratio – especially the issue of the ratio – was one of the very critical parts. Everyone recognizes you’re not treating – you’re treating this as if it’s just an organisational problem, not that there are real human children involved, who need education, who need social support, who need all that. That had become a much broader support for this movement.
Julie Mathien: Yeah. That’s an incredibly important point, because within a second, almost, we had a broad based movement. And the other thing that was at work here is that we knew that for the last, I don’t know, year Minischools, which was the bit American chain that was starting to roll out in the States was also looking at Canada and looking at Ontario specifically, because it was the province with the most people and the most child care, because of the Wartime Day Nurseries, partly; and, you know, it had more of a history than the other provinces.
And it had the first legislation and so they were looking for somewhere where they could make money and they actually had already established – well that September they opened up their first Minischools. So it didn’t – you know, you didn’t have to be a genius to figure out what was going on here. And so –
Sue Colley: OK, so what was going on then?
Julie Mathien: Well, it was reasonably clear, and they even semi-admit – Minischools even semi-admitted it – that they’d been lobbying the provincial government for – especially changes in the group sizes and staff child ratios – because that’s 80 to 90% of your budget, and if you’re going to make any savings that’s where you’re going to make the savings.
Sue Colley: So basically Margaret Birch had couched these changes to the regulatory requirements, including staff child ratios, as one where this would be a wonderful thing for the province because working mothers would be able to – and I think mothers was, you know –
Sue Colley: Working mothers would be able to go and leave their children at a reduced cost, – because, of course, if you’ve got less staff for more children you can reduce the costs. And this was also beginning to be a problem in Toronto, is that right?
Julie Mathien: What was beginning to be a problem in Toronto?
Sue Colley: The cost.
Julie Mathien: Yeah, yeah. Well, the other thing is that, you know, Working Women and their Child Care Arrangements, which the federal government had – a study the federal government had done a couple of years previously – I mean, not only was cost a problem, we still weren’t at the point where people – people hadn’t got used to paying for child care. The number of – in that study, which was the first one that was ever done, the number of women who actually – or number of families who actually used licensed child care was miniscule, as I recall, and the vast majority of children who were – at this point, the working women working outside the home and children – were being looked after during the day – most children were being looked after by their family members, most in their own home, and most weren’t paying anything for it.
So there was a big – so not only was there a practical affordability problem, which there’s always been, there was, at that point, a cultural problem as well. And child care – still at that point Susan, you will probably remember as well, child care, good child care, or especially for infants and toddlers, was highly suspect. I mean, I remember being on panels and somebody – more than once somebody standing up, from the audience, and telling me that my children will be setting the cat on fire by the time they were three because they were going to be emotionally deprived because they’d been in child care. So it was part of what the movement did was be able to work away at that over time, so.
Sue Colley: OK, so basically these were the proposals and then how do you think that the organisations came together to – you started talking about the OISE forum, and – and so who was involved in organising that? Was there a leadership within the campaign? Was it the Daycare Organizing Committee or was it the Daycare Reform Alliance or was it the Community Development Committee of Metropolitan Toronto or – how did the players – you know, what players were involved and how did they operate during this period?
Julie Mathien: So I can start and then Susan can follow-up. So initially it was the Daycare Organizing Committee and people we knew.
Susan Caldwell: Yeah.
Julie Mathien: Those were the people who organised that OISE meeting. So it would have been people like Pat and other people from, you know, West End Y and Elody Schultz was involved, from St Andrews and Kathy Gallagher Ross worked at Grace Carmen. That was how she originally became involved in child care. And so it was a bunch of activists getting involved and setting up the meeting. After that it was – the meeting – this is a bit tentative, but as I recall what we did was we developed a kind of a – I don’t want to call it – everything was very consensual. I mean, it wasn’t a very – I’m losing my words. Anyway, it wasn’t hierarchical – let me put it that way. But there was an organising committee that was set up out of that and I can remember some of the people involved, and also – and so the Daycare Organizing Committee sort of became the secretariat for that.
Susan Caldwell: Mm-hmm.
Julie Mathien: So, yeah, so that’s what happened. And then after that the actual steering committee, I guess I’d call it, organised other meetings throughout the summer.
Julie Mathien: So we had two or three others, throughout the summer, that were very well attended. We used to use – instead of OISE – we used to use the auditorium at the Faculty of Education, which was then the Faculty of Education at Bloor and Spadina, across the street. So we used that. And there were some ancillary projects that went on as well. So we had some – we were getting – after that big meeting at OISE we were getting a hundred people at the smaller meetings. We probably had three or four of those before the demonstration in October, and we – I mean, you know Susan is correct when she talks about the breadth of the organisations. I mean, who were conspicuously absent were Minischools, obviously, and a lot of the for-profit sector.
I mean, there were some – you know, there were some places in Toronto where almost everything was for-profit, and that would’ve been Scarborough, for example. There would’ve been a lot of mom-and-pops. They didn’t like this one bit. But there were a couple of others – Susan’s right, there were a few private child care centres that weren’t ever making a profit anyway. I mean, they were – and some of them were very good, but they acted like – they acted more like non-profits than they did like for-profit centres. And Irmagard Hoff I remember, and then there was a woman named Veronica Roynon, who kind of stuck by.
And then the municipal centres were critical. We had people from the colleges; Nick Laidlaw from the Institute of Child Study. Do you remember Nick, with his ear horn? He had an ear trumpet. And then the old-line non-profits like Victoria Day Care Centre, Cradleship Crèche, the Ontario Welfare Committee, Social Planning Council. All of those organisations became a part of this. The federations – the Teachers’ Federations came along later, as I recall, and Labour, at that point, wasn’t involved.
Sue Colley: Right. But did all these people form Daycare Reform Action Alliance or was that different?
Julie Mathien: Yeah.
Susan Caldwell: I think that the issue was in the context of the Women’s Movement. And so the right of women to take jobs, but also to have child care was really a widespread thing. I mean, sure – I mean, that’s why the Minischool, the Mini – whatever the name of that group was, really felt this was a good idea, because there were more women going out. But they really wanted quality care for their kids. It wasn’t just dropping them somewhere. And also that whole issue about having your family do it; well sometimes you didn’t have family nearby, and sometimes you didn’t sort of trust your family so much.
Julie Mathien: Yeah, sometimes they were unsuitable.
Susan Caldwell: And the whole educational aspect to it.
Julie Mathien: Right.
Susan Caldwell: And so there was a broad support. So we weren’t a minority – in general opinion I think we were never a small minority. In general opinion, a lot of people supported the idea that whatever daycare there was, both infant and over, should be quality daycare. And it was very obvious that that was based upon the adult child ratio. So what I’m saying is that when we were talking about being consensual, I don’t remember ever actually having to take a vote. We didn’t ever –
Julie Mathien: No, I don’t remember ever having taken a vote either.
Susan Caldwell: – have a minority. It was because we were all on the same line. We were all on the same position, basically, in developing this struggle.
Julie Mathien: We did use Roberts rules, in the bigger meetings, just to keep order, but it was mainly managing a speaker, so that’s not managing votes. So that was basically how that went. Yeah, no, that’s absolutely correct. And I’m just – the other thing is that this was a mix of parents and staff, and the parents were a mix. There were parents from non-profits. There weren’t a lot of parents from the old line charitable non-profits, but there were parents from non-profits, but there also were parents from municipal centres. I mean, Jesse – you know Anna Fraser, who I talked about, was a parent – was one of Ev McKeep’s parents at Jesse Ketchum.
So there were parents – which was always – it was helpful to have parents involved and not have this be seen as just something that was driven by, you know, people who would lose their salaries or something like that. The other thing I’d like to mention is that we were fortunate with the media in that a lot of people who were starting to work for some of the major outlets, like the CBC, the Globe, the Star, places like that, were our age, and we were seeing that they were increasingly women and some of them even who already had been involved in left-wing organisations when they were in university or such. And so they were predisposed to be helpful.
And even some of the older line staff, there was this sort of afternoon weekday program on CBC TV, which was, like from one o’clock to 02:30 or something like that. It had this kind of avuncular male host, who’d been around in CBC for eons, and I remember going there with Jean Woodsworth and the two of us – and I actually wore a dress for the occasion, maybe even a bra, I don’t know.
Susan Caldwell: No, not a dress.
Julie Mathien: Yeah, right; and certainly pantyhose. And afterwards he said to Jean, he said: “You two were so wonderful. I would certainly put my child in any child care you had anything to do with.” And I thought well, this is –
Sue Colley: Well done.
Julie Mathien: Yeah, right. That’s right. That’s right.
Sue Colley: So what does the government do about having put forward these proposals and then receiving all this negative response? I mean, you also had a demonstration in there somewhere, didn’t you?
Julie Mathien: We had – the biggest to date demonstration in Toronto –
Sue Colley: Wow.
Julie Mathien: – ever. It was about 2,000 people from all over the province.
Sue Colley: Uh-huh.
Julie Mathien: Yeah.
Susan Caldwell: Including children, including children.
Julie Mathien: Yes, including kids.
Susan Caldwell: We really made it – we made it a collective thing that wasn’t just the adults, it wasn’t just the – they said this is for children and the children should be part of it, and they were. They had balloons and blah, blah, blah, you know? But it was really – it came across in a very family-positive way, and I think that was an important quality to that demonstration, besides the good demands, you know?
Sue Colley: And what were the demands? Had you got the demands down to a manageable number at that point or were you asking for the world?
Julie Mathien: Well, we wanted them to roll back the proposed changes and we wanted more money for child care.
Sue Colley: Right.
Julie Mathien: And for Campus Community Cooperative there was really – there was a real shift, in that we had – as a centre we had been offside government for, I don’t know, five years, practically, at that point. Not quite that long. We certainly had been offside the University of Toronto, but they didn’t have anything to do with this. But we had been offside the government because we were demanding that we needed to be able to choose our own staff, no matter what. And at that point most of the people on that steering committee were saying look, we need qualified staff, for heaven’s sake. You know, we can’t cut down on the number of qualified staff. So we said OK, fine.
By that time we had qualified staff and we were licensed anyway, so it was no skin off our nose, so we – yeah, so we agreed to that. But, yeah, I think the position was developed very, very – there was a lot of consensus and I wish – I mean, you said that we’d put together a brief, which we did. Does anybody have a copy of the thing?
Sue Colley: Yeah, it’s actually on our website.
Julie Mathien: Oh really? Oh, my God. Who had that?
Sue Colley: I don’t remember. I got a lot of stuff. But since then, and I’m really sorry I’ve only just come across this in the last few days, I have a brief from the Community Daycare Coalition of Metro Toronto –
Julie Mathien: Oh yeah.
Sue Colley: – which Margatret Kidd gave me, and that’s something a bit different than the Daycare Reform Action Alliance.
Julie Mathien: That was the local organisation.
Sue Colley: Oh, I see. So this – so you were all involved in this as well?
Julie Mathien: Yes, yes, yeah, yeah.
Sue Colley: Right.
Julie Mathien: Because that came along after Daycare Reform Action Alliance, I think. What’s the date on it? Is there a date?
Sue Colley: No – oh yes, October the 3rd, ’74. You know –
Julie Mathien: OK, so –
Sue Colley: – you wouldn’t believe how many documents we have, that aren’t dated.
Julie Mathien: I’m glad you’ve got them, because I didn’t keep any.
Sue Colley: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that Julie. I was hoping that we would get some from you. Anyway, and so involved in it was Mrs. Anna Thomas.
Julie Mathien: Oh, yeah, that’s right.
Sue Colley: Mrs. Julia Schultz.
Julie Mathien: Oh, that’s Julia Schultz, right.
Sue Colley: And Mrs. Nora Rosenberg.
Julie Mathien: Oh right, OK. So Julia Schultz was – do you remember her?
Sue Colley: no.
Julie Mathien: Oh, OK. Julia was – she was very, very interesting. She was a Holocaust survivor.
Sue Colley: Ah.
Julie Mathien: And she had worked, once she got out of the death camp, she had worked in displaced persons camps, and had somehow landed – I think she’d lost her whole family in the camps – and somehow ended up in Toronto, and was – volunteering on things like Social Planning Council and on – you know, what would have been good causes. And she was extremely grounded. She was certainly more conservative than we are, we were, but she was always very respectful, always extremely respectful. I respected her a lot, actually. And Margaret Kidd was terrific and Ev McKee was terrific. I mean – yeah, yeah.
Sue Colley: It’s very sad we’ve lost a lot of the original organisers.
Julie Mathien: We’ve lost almost – I mean, how many people are left? I mean, there’s me and Susan. Anna Frazer died of pancreatic cancer, I found out –
Julie Mathien: Yeah, from her daughter. I got in touch with Deidre, and – well, the other thing is, I remember Susan – I don’t know what you remember about that summer, but I remember almost never being home. You know, it was one thing or another. Because one of the things that we tried to do was we tried to go to as many individual centres, to parent meetings, as would have us. And do you remember someone called Janet Dey, who –
Susan Caldwell: Yes, why? Why do I remember the –
Susan Caldwell: Tell me who she was, because the name sounds familiar.
Julie Mathien: She was a parent at Church of the Messiah Daycare and she was a freelancer of one sort or another, and Church of the Messiah was a non-profit. Not necessarily a coop, but a non-profit, and fairly newish. Good centre, actually. And she decided she wanted to make a video, which – to show the difference between what would happen in a group – with a group of children with fewer staff.
Susan Caldwell: Yeah.
Julie Mathien: So the staff at Church of Messiah were really good. So they did a little video experiment, having – you know and the staff would point out look, you know, we have fewer staff with that group now and can’t you see, look, those two are fighting over there, and this is happening and that’s happening, and video was in its total infancy at that point, and the video – you had to hook it up to a portable TV, and the video transmitter, not the recorder but the transmitter that got the image to the TV, weighed 500 pounds, I swear. And I can remember dragging that thing from centre to centre, all that summer, to show what would – and actually it wasn’t a very good video. I mean, you really had to – you know, you really had to be able to sort of see the subtleties in the image anyway. But, nevertheless, it wasn’t the best propaganda ever.
Sue Colley: Where is it, do you know, the video?
Julie Mathien: No. No, I don’t have a clue.
Sue Colley: Lost.
Julie Mathien: But anyways, it wasn’t only me doing this. I mean, it was a whole group, just seizing whatever opportunity we could to get the word out. And I remember we had a telephone tree and Ann organised the municipal centres to be the first geographic points in a telephone tree. So this –
Sue Colley: What is a telephone tree, Julie?
Julie Mathien: A telephone tree is where you set it up so that you – the initial phoners have to make ten phone calls at most and then every person you phone makes another five phone calls, and every – so those people make another five phone calls. So within an hour you can get the message out to, really, a whole lot of people. So it was that kind of stuff. So we used it to remind people of big meetings and that kind of thing.
Sue Colley: Right.
Julie Mathien: Organise for the demonstration, yeah.
Sue Colley: Yeah. So the demonstration – so how did the government respond to all of this pressure?
Julie Mathien: So their first tactic was to say nothing and just carry on, and saying that this would make child care less expensive for parents. They didn’t mention it was going to make it less expensive for them too, but – and that they were putting money – you know, there was going to be extra funding for child care, based on these changes in regulation. And so that’s the political side. And we did have a meeting with Mrs. Birch, Minister Birch, and we actually were very disciplined about the meeting. First of all, we showed up with ten people – not ten, sorry, six people, and she was visibly shocked. I mean, she was expecting two people who would sit across the table from her and listen.
So we showed up with six of us and we’d – so they had to scurry around and get extra chairs and, you know – and she had this assistant who had pursed lips all the time. So we had been very disciplined about the meeting. We were a delegation. Pat chaired the delegation, actually. And everybody had – Pat Schultz and everybody had a – something that they – everybody had an issue that they were going to address. And so at one point I know her EA broke in to someone – broke in and said I’d like to know about X, Y, Z, and I remember Pat turning and saying: “Actually, the next person’s going to talk about that.”
So we marched in, had the meeting. They didn’t have much of a response, and marched out. And then a couple of other things happened. We started doing something, that when I was political staff, and Sue, probably when you were too, we really would have disapproved of, but we started showing up everywhere she spoke and making a fuss. And it got to the point whereby, kind of November-ish, she just wasn’t appearing in public anymore. We had little flying squads that went out to places where she was speaking. You know how we found out about them? We found out about them through the NDP Research Office.
Sue Colley: Oh yeah.
Julie Mathien: So that was a help. They were the official opposition in that government, as you’ll recall; newly, actually. And then – so we did that, and there was one that I remember in particular, where she – where the province had organised a very hush-hush colloquium on choice. And the reason it was hush-hush is because they didn’t want the right to life people showing up, or the anti-choice people showing up. They actually wanted prochoice; CARAL was invited and a whole bunch of the pro-choice –
Sue Colley: Canadian Association for Repeal of the Abortion Laws
Julie Mathien: Yeah, yeah, so all those – so those people were there. And we found out about it through a friend of Pat’s, who was on the executive of CARAL; so thought OK, that’s great. We’ll trot into that. We managed to get in because of Marilyn Roycroft, because we showed up dressed like we were going to a colloquium. Pat was wearing a suit, like a skirt suit, which was – I said: “Oh my goodness, that’s lovely. Where did you get it?” She said: “I wore it to my last wedding.” That’s when she married Kathy’s dad, I think. And I was wearing, again, a dress and tights and stuff, and Marilyn flashed her badge, saying Leader of the Opposition’s Office, and we just sort of scurried in behind her and got into the audience.
We actually had brought a banner and it was all folded up in an Eaton’s bag that Pat had, so it looked like we’d been shopping at the break and we sat across the aisle from each other, and at one point, as the minister was speaking, we got up, unfurled the banner that said: “Good child care, Lots of it.” And at that point the security guards hustled us out real fast and they hustled the minister off the stage real fast. But that was – so we did more of that kind of thing than they would’ve wanted us to do. But the funny part of it is, and Susan, I don’t know if you remember, because I did talk about this in the steering committee.
This wasn’t a deep dark secret, although we kept it within the steering committee, One night, and it probably would have been post the demonstration. It would have been after – it would have been some time in the fall, after the demonstration. At 11 o’clock at night I got this call saying: “Is this Julie Mathien?” And I said: “Yes.” She said: “Julie, this is Elsie Stapleford.”
Sue Colley: Oh.
Julie Mathien: And Elsie was the Director of the Child Care Branch, or what was then the Daycare Branch at that point, and was the person who had refused to licence Campus Community Cooperative. And so I said: “Oh, hello Elsie. How are you?” I’m thinking, like what is going on? She said: “Well,” she said: “Julie, I thought I’d just let you know what they’re doing in there.” And so what Elsie – I probably had three or four phone calls from Elsie during this moment, actually, where she… I mean, basically what she was saying is they don’t know what to do about this. So that was good information. And so this was, like OK, fine, we’ll keep up the pressure. Elsie lived to a great age and I think, you know, she would be one of the original authors of the Day Nurseries Act.
Sue Colley: Yeah.
Julie Mathien: She was one of the people who’d written it. And I think it just really stuck in her craw. At that point I’m not sure whether she had a position on profit versus non-profit. I think she probably was an early feminist, just guessing, but she did not want those regulations changed.
Sue Colley: Right.
Julie Mathien: And if she had to go underground to do it – she was risking her job.
Sue Colley: Yeah.
Julie Mathien: I mean, you know – I mean, supposing we wrote an article about it in Good Daycare, which was our newsletter. I mean, supposing we’d said, you know, news from inside or something like that. But we decided not to do that, yeah.
Sue Colley: Right. So what do you think the outcome, then, of your campaign was, a victory or how would you characterise it?
Susan Caldwell: What do you think?
Julie Mathien: I’m not going to answer. I’m going to let Susan go.
Susan Caldwell: No, I remember that they withdrew part of it, but they didn’t – they withdrew the funding too, right?
Julie Mathien: Yeah, they did, yeah. Yeah, they never went forward with the changes, but yeah – they were getting a lot of flack. I mean, there were people like Anne Barstow, who was, at that point, still, I think, on the board of Victoria Daycare Services and was active in either the Ontario Welfare League or Social Planning Council, I can’t remember which, and she was a Pink Tory. And so, you know, the Premier was getting phone calls from, sort of, the charitable wing of Toronto, in particular I think, and saying, you know, this is not sustainable. So, I mean, we had a partial victory. And then we saved the Day Nurseries Act and we didn’t get the increased funding.
Because one of the things that it did do was put child care on the map and you did start to see an uptake, I think, in people who wanted to use licensed child care. I do think we had a partial victory in terms of child care quality, and having looked at child care in other provinces, my God, that was worth saving.
Sue Colley: Yeah.
Julie Mathien: It really was. I think we put child care on the social policy map. Sue, if you’ve read my paper you know there were some beginnings of that at that point, but it wasn’t as public an issue as it has become over time.
Sue Colley: It was an excellent paper, Julie.
Julie Mathien: Oh, thank you. And they set the stage – we set the stage for all of the other organisations that came after us. I mean, there have been ups and downs, but we’ve had a viable child care movement in Toronto – or sorry, in Ontario, for a very long time and I think that it went from being a collective of people to a very broad based movement, very, very quickly. And there was obviously an appetite there for supporting this type of child care. And it was very gratifying to see that.
Susan Caldwell: Yeah.
Sue Colley: So –
Susan Caldwell: Basically, I’m just commenting the same thing, is that when you asked me what happened, I remember that the sense of we stopped something but we didn’t gain something. So we stopped this change in the ratios but we didn’t get more funding. We didn’t get a commitment for more funding. We didn’t get the sort of thing that we wanted, you know? We didn’t want to just stop this one little aspect. We wanted a lot more. But I think that Julie picked up on the really important part. Because we were so public for that period of time other people felt that they could speak up, and that gave a basis for a lot more people to come out and say hey, I guess we have a right to this, as opposed to yeah, we should have to pay anything they charge.
Julie Mathien: Yeah, yeah. I’ll pop them next-door with Aunt Minnie or, you know, whatever. The other thing is that because we opposed commercial child care it actually gave us a base to really move forward on that and really promote non-profit, and it was about a year and a half afterwards that the province started providing capital grants to non-profit child care centres, which they hadn’t before. You had to either be a municipality or an Indian band to receive any kind of capital funding for child care. So Devonshire was actually one of the first programs that got capital funds to renovate for child care. That was what we sat in, in Simcoe Hall for, for Sussex. And so the U of T must have breathed a sigh of relief.
In fact I know they did at that point. And so we’ve been able to – we were able to build on that. And I have to say that if things like that capital grants infrastructure hadn’t been in place it would’ve been a lot more difficult for us to have set up that network of non-profit child care centres in schools, which we were able to do in Toronto, with a very helpful school board, and also people applying for capital grants at the province. And, actually, applying for a capital grant for a school was actually a whole lot less expensive than applying for one for something else, because schools had a fair bit of appropriate infrastructure, as it was, and so – so yeah.
Sue Colley: So another question I have here is what role did feminist activists play in this moment and do you think that women activists actually identified themselves as feminists at this time? Susan, do you have –
Susan Caldwell: I think both feminist activists paid a central role because, for instance, Sussex was set up by the women from the University of Toronto Women’s Movement, or whatever you want to call it. And then it just continued like that. So I can remember when I started at Sussex, which I wasn’t there at the beginning, Omar was a year old when I started bringing him down to Sussex, and the sense to which that continued to play a role, your right to demand things, your right – and that’s the basic core of feminism, is your right to have demands, not to just accept what you are handed, and I think that that played a central role, so that when we took over Devonshire, and occupied it, for what was it, six months we had to occupy it before they gave us the right to be there without…
Julie Mathien: Yeah, well they never did, actually. They never did. We sat on various committees and they just basically gave up. Yeah, right.
Susan Caldwell: But at the beginning we were literally in the building 24/7, right? And that was something that only came out of an activist. And clearly the core of that was the Women’s Movement. So the whole requirement that if your child was in the Campus Community Cooperative Daycare Centres all the parents had to do shifts, even the fathers. Even if it was after work. We had a very clear – and they would – so is that feminism? Yes, it is; whether it’s important or not. I mean, you can make judgements about the political importance of all of it, but I think the feminism and the idea of speaking up – and I think at the time you didn’t – whether you went around saying you were a feminist or not, you certainly were part of the Women’s Movement, and they saw it as that. So later on you learned to call yourself a feminist and, you know, as a title or something like that, but being part of a broad movement that was changing things was giving you a voice that had not been there before.
Sue Colley: Right.
Susan Caldwell: And I think that was important.
Julie Mathien: There were other feminists as well, who weren’t a part of our sphere, I guess, and I remember going to a meeting that – because there was a provincial – by that time I think there was a Provincial Council of Women –
Sue Colley: Yeah, Ontario –
Sue Colley: Ontario Committee on the Status of Women.
Julie Mathien: Yes, yeah, and – yes, that’s right. And as I recall, Laura Sabia was the chair of that. I don’t know if she would have called herself a feminist. She certainly believed in equal rights for women. And she was a conservative. And she was very effective within the political culture of Ontario, at that particular point, which had been conservative for – you know, since Premier Drew, as I recall. Anyway, she called a meeting in the middle of all of this, to try and get the Daycare Reform Action Alliance to back off. So it was primarily to discuss the situation, but the idea was that she would – that we would back off. And we – when we said no, we’re not going to she was unhappy.
She made her displeasure quite clear. But she had gathered a bunch of women, some of whom were actually sympathetic to us, but a bunch of women who were what I would, I guess, call more mainstream. Not that we didn’t have mainstream people as a part of this movement. We actually did have a lot of mainstream people as part of this movement. But these would’ve been different ages and class cohorts, partly.
Sue Colley: Because it does show the complexion of the emerging Women’s Movement, doesn’t it, with all –
Julie Mathien: Yes, it does.
Julie Mathien: Laura had a very strong presence . She actually – I think, within her circle was very effective. I expect she was pro-choice, for example. But she would have been inclined to help the government out. She probably would not have had any problem with Minischools running child care in the province, and she certainly – she probably thought we were kind of reds under the beds – which we actually were. And she was not used to being told thanks but no thanks.
Sue Colley: So what do you think might be the most interesting aspects of this story, for activists and researchers in the current period? Shall I read that again? I mean, we’re also trying to develop teaching resources for this, that people can use on this issue using this website, which I think is going to be very relevant, given everything’s going online in the next several months. But I wonder if you have just a caption that you could say – could describe, what would be the most interesting thing about this story, for activists and researchers.
Susan Caldwell: That’s a good one. Let me just throw out one that strikes me, in the context of today, OK, with being part of this pandemic. And it does come from the feminist background, that says you have a right to make your demands, and our demands were just rational. We didn’t see them as asking for the moon and the stars and the sky above. We wanted good daycare because we needed to have jobs, or we wanted good jobs. And so I can remember the whole thing – you couldn’t get daycare, the provincial daycare. You couldn’t get the provincial daycare without having a job, and you couldn’t get a job without having daycare. So it was, you know, you were locked in and there was no way out, without making demands.
And I think with all of what’s going on now, in terms of the health care and the frontline workers, the nurses, the people in the old folks home, which are majority women, right, and they’re saying wait a minute. Look at us. We are doing the essential job, and you recognise its an essential job, but you’re paying us less than minimum. And I think what I would want them to hear from us is that what you do is you speak up and you organise, and you get a better chance of changing things than if you don’t speak up and don’t make a noise, OK?
Sue Colley: Right.
Julie Mathien: Yeah. I would agree, 110%. I mean, I think my cutline would be: “Organise, organise, organise.” And, you know, back in the day it was a lot of really, really, really hard work. I mean, a telephone tree is actually pretty primitive, when it comes right down to it. You know, we used to have – things like our newsletter, we used to have it professionally printed, but the rest of the stuff, it was Gestetner, for God’s sake. I mean – yeah, right. And, you know, probably getting sick from the fumes. Anyway, it really was great that we had the Daycare Organizing Committee, as long as we had the funding. When LIP ended, actually, Company of Young Canadians picked us up for about a year, because it was in effect two staff people. We had me and Susan, as long as we were both working there. And so that was a real help. But that was more coincidence than anything else.
Susan Caldwell: Yeah.
Julie Mathien: Yeah, so yeah. And, you know, align yourself with like-minded people who can help.
Sue Colley: Yeah. And it wasn’t a problem getting the funding from the federal government, under LIP. You know, it wasn’t a problem that you were activists and you were organising –
Julie Mathien: No, no.
Sue Colley: – the provincial government? None of that mattered, hey?
Julie Mathien: No, no, no.
Susan Caldwell: I don’t know that they rejected anything.
Julie Mathien: – when we got the original funding, what the original funding was for was to set up non-profit child care centres in places where they didn’t have them, in Toronto. So that was – but it was – you know, it was – you know, 12 Sussex was a really – [unintelligible 01:01:28], was a really political place, so of course it was political, right?
Sue Colley: Yeah.
Julie Mathien: And it became – you know, became political pretty soon. And so we’d started doing seminars, like that Saturday morning seminar I described. We started to do things like how to start your own daycare, you know, which was really – I mean, it’s hard now – it was really hard back then.
Sue Colley: Yeah. We’re about at the end and I would like to finish up by asking you two, individually, how your involvement in this moment – what it meant for your future activism in the Women’s Movement. Were you involved in other organisations or other – just how did you move on from this moment?
Susan Caldwell: It changed everything for me. What’s really funny is that I had come – I’m originally from the States. I had come to Canada in February of ’71, as the partner to a draft dodger against the U.S. war in Vietnam, OK. I started getting involved with the daycare setting with Sussex that fall, like six months later. And there I met all these feminists and all these progressive people. And so when the Daycare Organizing Committee got set up the other person was Jackie Larkin, right? And Jackie, as you know, was already part of –
Julie Mathien: Don’t forget Graham. Don’t forget Graham.
Susan Caldwell: Yeah, yeah… I was – and so I can remember that, Jackie, who was already to the left at that time, saying to me: “OK, why don’t you read Karl Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire?” And I said: “OK, I’ve got about three pages in it,” and I thought: “I don’t know enough about the history of France to be able to say whether he’s right or wrong.” And so she said: “Well, why don’t you read Ernest Mandel’s Marxist Economic Theory?” And she loaned me the book. And I returned it to her on the following Monday and I said I read it. It’s very good. I agree. And she says: “I’m still on Chapter One.” alright, so, that sort of repositioned how you thought about things.
And then being involved, politically, in what was, if not a mass movement, but a pretty mass movement, when a lot of it – there were divisions within the Women’s Movement and all that – really did change. It became a norm for me, so that – I moved here to Quebec in ’76 and here in Quebec I was – I’ve maintained – I was in a political group in Toronto that was called the Revolutionary Marxist Group. And then when I moved to Quebec I became a member of its sister organisation, called the Groupe Marxist Révolutionnaire and I have been part of that since then, in all of its different forms. And then I became – when I started teaching here at the CEGEP System, I was, of course, involved with the unions.
And that Women’s Movement had a very powerful movement that had an impact on the political situation in Quebec in the late 70s and early 80s. And so, you know, the extension of daycare, the extension – the demands for daycare, the demands for equal speaking rights, the dual – all that became just part – so both in my job, because I was on the union executive, of course, and in my political life it just – it’s just flowed from there. And since then the political group itself has had various formations and comings and goings, but I’ve been involved with – on that political framework, both at the level of Quebec and at the pan-Canadian level and at an international level. So it really started me on something that I feel grounded me for my life.
Sue Colley: Thank you. How about you Julie?
Julie Mathien: Well, I go back a bit as well, as Susan did, because the beginning of that sort of change was when we – I was in on the Simcoe Hall occupation, to get money to originally renovate 12 Sussex, for child care, because I was at college at the time. We were having a reading week and Tom came in and said – Tom was on – he wasn’t on SAC at that point, but he was later on, and he was a member of… the New Left Caucus at U of T, and he said: “You know, there’s a big demo over at Simcoe – they’ve occupied Simcoe Hall. I’m going over. Why don’t you come?” And I said: “Sure, why not?” I’d always – I’d worked as a camp counsellor – and done all the kid-related things that a teenager could do at that time.
I was 20, but what the teenager could do and I worked for the parks department in the summer. I liked kids and I liked being with kids. I was interested in kids. And so I thought – you know, I thought well, you know, child care seems like a good thing to do with kids. My dad had died when he was 43 and I was 14, and my mother, at that point, had scandalised our North Toronto neighbourhood by working part-time and immediately started to work full-time after that, and I’m the eldest of four. So, you know, I knew what the life of a working mom was like. And I had no idea that millions of working-class moms did the same thing. But, you know, I came to that knowledge fairly soon after that.
But, anyway, I found myself, after graduation, I actually had decided, about in the last year, that I was training to be a silversmith but that wasn’t what I was going to be. So I was sort of trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, and 12 Sussex needed volunteers, so I started volunteering there. And, really, they were really, really happy to have someone show up on a regular basis, who liked kids. I mean, they really were. And so I did a lot of – I started volunteering there, and became a part of that community. And that, for me, was – I’d known about it and attended a couple of meetings, of the on campus feminist groups, and for me that was really hands-on and applied, and really appealed to me for that reason. And so the kind of fight that we had with both the University of Toronto and the province, and that – you know, I started volunteering the spring of 1969, so –
Susan Caldwell: Wow.
Julie Mathien: Or maybe the spring of 1970. Anyway, Campus Community Cooperative was less than a year old at that point, so it was pretty new. They had just finished the renovations. But we were still fighting – we still had refused to hire qualified staff, so we were still fighting the province. We were still fighting the university to stay in our space and get more. And so all of that kind of negotiations and, basically, standing our ground kind of was helpful to me, in terms of the next fight with the province, which was the Birch proposals. And in terms of the organising, we just did what we had to do, essentially, as we really did. But it was very helpful to me to meet a really broad spectrum of the child care community and become acquainted with people that I respected all of my life, and people I’m always happy to see.
And it was – and then I – you know, I went on to – I spent – gee, what did I do? I spent a year working for the Ontario Non-profit Housing Network, in Toronto. I find housing policy eye glazing, by the way, but I did that. And then by 1975 I was – I had started to work for the school board, putting – you know, organising non-profit child cares in – there was – at that point there was surplus school space. There still is.
And the Toronto Board, which is a very progressive school board, had developed a little policy and funding thing for putting organisations – non-profit organisations in school space, and child care was the most sensible one to put in, so.
Sue Colley: And how about organisations, political organisations or women’s organisations, did you later participate in any of those?
Julie Mathien: No, I didn’t, and I was – you know, I was involved in some of the other child care organisations as well, because we were at the same meetings, earlier on. I would say in the late 70s, early 80s, probably. And I was on various child care organisations – like, I was one of the first members of the Metro Daycare Advisory Committee, so it was our municipal advisory committee that we brow beat the municipality into having. I was on things like – on the board of the Social Planning Council. I sat on other non-profit boards, Pueblito Canada, for example. I mean, so I did more of that kind of thing. Then I’ve been a member of the NDP for years, except that I’ve never been on my Riding Committee executive or anything like that. I mean, I’ve always helped out in campaigns and that’s been it. So, yeah, no, I haven’t.
Sue Colley: Yeah, great.
Julie Mathien: Yeah, I wasn’t involved in NAC. I mean, people like Martha were involved in NAC. I supported NAC. I thought NAC was a great organisation, but yeah. Oh and I was also on – remember – what was the federal –
Sue Colley: The Child care Advocacy Association.
Julie Mathien: Yeah, that’s right. I was on the CC – I was one of the Ontario reps on the CCAC, so.
Sue Colley: Yeah, that’s right, yeah.
Julie Mathien: Yeah.
Sue Colley: Great. Well, thank you both, fantastic.