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By Stacey Askew

A small group of Ryerson students used last Saturday’s International Women’s Day march to push for a national child care deal.

Carrying signs reading “Childcare is more than just cash,” the crowd, which included students from several different programs, chanted: “Harper, Harper, let’s get real, we need a national child care deal.” Roughly 3,500 people marched through downtown streets, up from about 750 last year.

They marched with the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare supporting Code Blue, a campaign of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada. The march included organizations advocating for decent wages, better working conditions and peace in Iraq, while campaigning against world poverty and violence towards women.

Third-year nursing student Sandra Brookes said all of these issues are important for women. “It’s important for people to have (equal) early childhood education,” said Brookes. “It allows for all people to have equal opportunities in life.” Child care, however, seemed to be on everyone’s mind. Code Blue is an initiative to protect the provincial and federal child care plan completed by the former Liberal government in 2005.

The Conservative government plans to cut the proposed $5 billion transfer payment to provinces in early 2007. They will replace it with a $1,200 annual taxable allowance for each child under six, a proposal Harper calls “choice in child care.” The issue opened a national debate on the relevance of a national child care system. Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care Co-Ordinator Jane Brown said she was heartened by the level of student involvement.

“I am very pleased to have young people and students involved in the child care cause,” she said. I think all (students) will at some time need child care.” The issue also seems to be getting students interested in the political scene. Brookes and her friends first became involved in Code Blue as part of a political action project requiring them to take part in a community issue, she said. Amira Juneja, a third-year nursing student who was also at the parade, said she decided to get involved in the project because “child care was something different… and would relate to nursing.”

Code Blue also runs an online petition asking Harper, opposition leaders and provincial premiers “to honour the premise of a national child care program.” At press time, it had received more than 18,000 signatures.

This demonstrates the dedication of those concerned about the child care system, Brown said. “In 2005 we came very close to beginning the development of a national child care plan and we will not back down now,” she said. The march ended in front of Ryerson’s Student Campus Centre, where an International Women’s Day fair took place.

It featured 54 exhibits from women’s groups, regional NGOs and businesses.

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