The OECD: Globalizing Daycare Lobby Ideology

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s “finding” that Canada ranks lowest in spending on child care and early learning, and its predictable recommendations, need to be seen for what they are intended to be: propaganda tools for the domestic daycare lobby.

Yet this finding is still being milked in policy discussions: the Senate Committee on Social Affairs is writing a report on the report having heard hours of testimony from daycare lobbyists such as Child Care Advocacy Association, Martha Friendly, Dr. Fraser Mustard, and others [1].

The OECD’s review of Canada comprised 2 twinned reports – a “Background Report” [2] and a “Country Note” report [3]. The “Background” paper was written by leaders of the Canadian daycare lobby, including Martha Friendly, Coordinator of the Childcare Resource and Referral Unit. However, both the OECD and Ms Friendly publicly denied her involvement in the project. (See article “The OECD and Canada’s Daycare Lobby: Ties Denied“.)

Using the prestige of its staid reputation for statistical objectivity, the OECD seeks to bully member states into implementing child and family policy that suits the larger goal of labour force ‘flexibility’ and low wage subsidies.

Thus, according to an OECD paper entitled, “Peer Review: a Tool for Co-operation and Change,” it applies what it calls “peer review and peer pressure.” In this pursuit, techniques such as “ranking” countries are used in order to have “an impact…on domestic public opinion, national administrations and policy makers.” [4] In short, propaganda: Canada was ranked low in order to legitimate the lobbyists demand for more money for non-parental institutional child care.

Rianne Mahon, professor at Carleton University and a leading daycare-apologist, makes this bullying tactic very clear in her paper, “The OECD and the Reconciliation Agenda: Competing Blueprints.” The revealing paper was published by Ms Friendly’s tax-funded organization, but unlike the OECD’s paper, it was not widely publicized. Mahon herself is in general agreement with the OECD’s effort to eradicate policies favourable to parental child care. Concerning its practice of “ranking” countries she states:

Broad policy documents certainly contribute to shaping the social policy paradigm of member states. It is through the publication of country-specific assessments, however, that the OECD is able to employ the “name and shame” instrument of peer review to press “laggards” to learn.” [5]

In an attempt to cover up the OECD’s social paradigm shaping machinations, John Bennett, head of the OECD’s review of Canada, claimed in a letter to the National Post that, “The OECD has no bias, conscious or unconscious, against families taking care of their own children.“[6]

This is demonstrably false. At events like the OECD colloquium bluntly titled, “Putting More Women to Work [sic],” OECD experts are clear that they promote funding daycare over parental care: “Childcare subsidies—conditioned on female[Labour Force] participation—are better than child benefits” [7]. At the OECD’s first “Starting Strong” event, a speech was made and later published by Ms Friendly that set out the vast ambition of the Utopian social mega-project. It advocated against the “ideology of the family” and for “a new order. This includes deep changes in societies in general and in the family’s structure in particular…a review of the family-state relationship regarding the responsibility for the care and education of children.” We need a “paradigm shift” to the “view of ECEC as a shared responsibility between the family and the state,[however] in many countries the state is still reluctant to intervene in the family domain“[8].

Mahon also makes it clear that the OECD is not neutral at all:

  • It is “an active participant in the push to eliminate the last vestiges of maternalism.”[9]

  • It “counsels the rejection of maternalism in favour of supports for the new dual earner (or lone parent earner) family.” [10]

  • It “counsels the establishment of an ECEC system that would offer quality care to all children, irrespective of the labour market status of their parents.” [11]

  • It rejects “neo-familialism’s long [maternity and parental] leaves… as destructive of mothers’ human capital and weakening their labour market attachment.

  • Countries are encouraged to move to individual, rather than family, taxation.

  • For lone parents “The ‘welfare to work’ orientation is to be embraced by all.” [12]

Blurring the Boundaries: Mating Academics and Advocates to Conceive the “New Public Child”

If any doubts remain about the ideological motivations and the lack of objectivity at the OECD when it comes to early childhood education and care (ECEC), Mahon makes it quite clear. The following quotes excerpted from her paper’s conclusion explain how the “ideas and values” of ideology-based daycare “advocates” are central, and how its “review” of countries’ policies are intended to be used to advance the anti-parental child care agenda:

  • The [OECD’s] ECEC unit’s perspective represents more of a challenge to the status quo. It is not as well-placed as the family-friendly unit in DELSA, however. It reports to a smaller, more narrowly focused (education) Directorate….Its potential strength comes from the way it structured the review process. It carried out its work in such a way as to draw in and develop a transnational network of early childhood specialists and advocates.

  • It thus blurred the boundary between epistemic communities, made up of experts linked by cognitive and professional ties (Haas, 1992), and transnational advocacy networks—”networks of activists, distinguishable largely by the centrality of principled ideas or values in motivating their formation.

  • In this it has built on, and extended, the earlier work of the European Commission’s Childcare Network [of which Friendly’s associate Helen Penn is a leader]. Just as the latter forged links among child care advocates operating at different scales—local and national—adding the European, the ECEC branch has done the same across the OECD.

  • Its success, of course, will depend on the capacity of advocates to make good use of these reports in their struggles.

  • Part of the hope may lie…in countries where ‘the long default position of the child located in the private sphere of the family is being disturbed by some glimmerings of the “public child”, replete with voice, rights and citizenship’ (2004: 211). Yet this ‘new child’ will need allies which might be found, inter alia, in recharged feminist and trade union movements.” [13]

The OECD and the Canadian daycare lobby can keep their fantastical “new” “public child.” Canadian child policy should be based on reality and the democratic will of Canadians, not the statist solutions of unaccountable ideologues.


[1] “The state of early learning and child care in Canada” at link1 (cat link) and
February, 14, 2008. Senate Committe on Social Affairs, Science and Technology – transcirpt (web): “The state of early learning and child care in Canada”

[2] 2003. OECD – report (PDF): Thematic Review of Early Childhood Education and Care Canadian Background Report by Friendly, Beach , Doherty

[3] 2004. OECD – study (PDF): “Canada Country Note

[4] Sep 11, 2002. OECD – study (PDF): “PEER REVIEW: A TOOL FOR CO-OPERATION AND CHANGE An Analysis of an OECD Working Method” by Fabrizio Pagani. General Secretariat Directorate for Legal Affairs

[5] July 2005. Rianne Mahon . Childcare Resource & Research Unit University of Toronto – study (PDF): “The OECD and the reconciliation agenda: Competing blueprints” Occasional Paper # 20 p 13

[6] December 8, 2006. National Post p A19 letter by John Bennett, manager of the OECD review of Canada, 2003, Paris.

[7] “Prospects for female participation in an ageing world” (cat link) Jean-Marc Burniaux, Economics Department, OECD, Paris, p 10

[8] January 2002. “An Integrated Approach to Early Childhood Education and Care: A Preliminary Study” by Lenira Haddad published by the Childcare Resource & Research Unit, Occasional Paper # 16 p 3,6,9

[9] July 2005. Rianne Mahon . Childcare Resource & Research Unit University of Toronto – study (PDF): “The OECD and the reconciliation agenda: Competing blueprints” Occasional Paper # 20, p 23

[10] p 13 ibid

[11] p.22 ibid

[12] p.15 ibid

[13] pp. 24-25 ibid

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