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Destroying child care program kills a national dream

Thursday, March 2, 2006

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First, let’s make sure that we get some terminology right. War is not peace. Freedom is not slavery. Ignorance is not strength. And, regardless of what our new Conservative Ministry of Truth says, a taxable allowance of $100 a month for each child under six is NOT “a child care plan”.

Now, if Stephen Harper thinks that paying parents of children under six a whopping $3.28 a day (less tax) for their efforts is such a good idea, let him make the argument for that. But, he and his newly minted government should stop trying to pretend that it’s some kind of a grand plan for giving parents “choice in child care”. It’s simply a cheque (and a pretty paltry cheque at that).

Moreover, by unilaterally cancelling the five-year agreements that the federal government had signed with the provinces, the Conservatives are denying parents the ability to access the quality regulated child care that they want and need (something that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child lists as one of the fundamental rights all children should enjoy).

Public statements made by Harper and several of his ministers indicate that they really don’t have a clue about the value of quality child care. The Conservatives label licensed child care providers as “institutions” and make ridiculous assertions like “We certainly don't want the federal government to tell us how to raise our children.” and “The best people to raise children are the parents” (as if parents looking for child care were guilty of abandoning their children to the state).

The proposed payments to parents aren’t everything they seem. While it is well known that $1200 a year wouldn’t begin to cover the cost of child care, most parents won’t receive anything close to that amount. A study by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy shows a couple that together earn $36,000 a year “would end up with a net Child Care Allowance worth just $388 ? only 32.3 percent of the $1,200 face value payment.”

We shouldn’t let the Liberals off the hook for this pending disaster. If they had delivered, even partially, on a national child care program after promising it in 1993 (or 1997 or even 2000), the program would be so well established by now that it would be virtually impossible for a new government to pull the plug, no matter how ideologically hostile they were to the idea of government-funded child care programs. Instead, they waited until the dying days of their regime to put child care money into the budget and to finally begin making agreements with the provinces. That made child care an inviting target for the dinosaurs in the Conservative Party. And, because the program was just being rolled out, voters didn’t have a real sense of what we’d be losing.

As well, the fact that two of the Liberals’ key campaign spokespeople (Scott Reid and John Duffy) were incapable of opening their mouths without inserting both feet discredited a legitimate argument about the futility of writing cheques that weren’t tied to the delivery of child care. As leading child care advocate Monica Lysack argued during the campaign “If we simply give the money to parents, we're saying ‘Take the money, now it's your problem.’ And I think that would be a really cowardly thing for the government to do.” The Liberals could have said that, but instead they turned a serious discussion into an argument about “beer and popcorn”.

Not surprisingly, provinces, child care providers and parents are not pleased with the prospect of having the recently-signed child care agreements torn up. They signed the deals in good faith and started ramping up their child development programs in good faith. A change in government shouldn’t negate the agreements. As Manitoba Premier Gary Doer argued last week, “Obviously we have an agreement with Canada, not with Paul Martin or Stephen Harper.”

But Harper and his government aren’t even interested in talking to the federal government’s partners. According to news reports, Mary Anne Chambers, Ontario’s Minister of Children’s Services tried to talk to Social Development Minister Diane Finley about the decision, but her call was never returned. Finley did assure Canadians that “our program does not prevent the provinces from going ahead with their own child-care programs.” And this was the government that was going to remedy “the fiscal imbalance”? Thanks for nothing.

In 1874, when Prime Minister Alexander MacKenzie came into power in the wake of the Pacific Scandal, he didn’t order the tracks of the partially built Canadian Pacific Railway to be torn up. Doing so would have been a complete breach of trust with the Canadian people and with the government of British Columbia, which had entered Confederation on the condition that the transcontinental railway would be completed.

While the building of the CPR was plagued with scandals and mismanagement, and strongly identified with the discredited government of John A. MacDonald, the newly elected government recognized that it was too important to the future of the country to play politics with it. Equally, it would make no sense to tear apart a national child care program just as it is finally being built.
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  1. Posted by: Jesse on Mar 2, 2006 @ 5:59pm

    I come from a single income family. My mother cannot work, because of her health. She raised three children, while my father worked hard to pay the bills (including three students who went through University - debt free, I might add). He's not rich - we're far from rich.

    Given that situation, I have real trouble with forced child-care taxes. Not only would my mother have received no financial support under this plan, but our family would have had to pay extra money to raise other people's children. It makes no sense, and it's not fair.

  2. Posted by: Shawn on Mar 4, 2006 @ 8:54pm

    I would rather see communities or at most the province deal with childcare rather than the federal government since its easier to hold institutions that are more local more accountable due to proximity and the increase impact of direct action if the people running them get out of hand which it allows for more community input into how such programs are run... having said that, I have much more of a problem with forced corporate welfare coming out of the public purse, state enforced concentrated property ownership, and forced military spending than with money for child care which aids those who don't have the ability to pay for private care... Highly unequal societies are societies that also tend to have higher crime, depression, mental stress, higher average working hours, and a worse environmental record among the developed industrialized states. Compare the US, Canada, or the UK to the Scandinavian countries, or even France and this becomes obvious as a general trend. This empirically valid fact seems to be ignored or lost upon by advocates of neoliberalism.

  3. Posted by: john h on Mar 11, 2006 @ 10:29am

    Suggestion:

    Google "Quebec Daycare/Childcare". It turns out the model we should so emulate has all sorts of unresolved issues. The Quebec plan charges a flat $7/child /per day, whether the parents earn $30,000 or $300,000. In any event there's been next to no info on who will cover the cost, even if we knew what the cost will be Certainly the $1 billion per year the Liberals are tossing in won't even begin to cover it. Never a good sign when the so-called "advocates" can't/won't show us the numbers.

    The Scandinavian countries are considerably different from Canada so I'm thinking we're doing an apples and oranges sort of comparo here.

  4. Posted by: Shawn on Mar 11, 2006 @ 5:41pm

    Um... if people would both to look outside their own little corner of the world, they'd realise that many if not the vast majority of cultures have kids raised by community rather than just by parents... We pay to raise other kids when we support them going to school too... perhaps we should just scrap education... why not just have the parents do it solo... after all we could define public education as 'their problem' and not our own... The problem with appealing to a totally me-first view of the world (other than the fact that humans are historically and evolutionarily social animals which have relied on each other for survival)... is that one would actually have to convince others that a world dominated by selfishness will actually be a more desirable one to live in... although most of us actually can't be totally selfish even if we want to... look up mirror neurons some time if you're bored...

    Comparing countries regarding depression rates, crime, stress, working hours, etc... seems apples to apples to me... politicians usually do have the credibility of a product spokesperson though... so ignoring what they say and focusing on what they do is about all you have to go on.

  5. Posted by: john h on Mar 12, 2006 @ 8:18am

    You'd probably find that most "cultures" have more a co-op means of looking after kids; that is parents take a shared responsibility.
    Thats' considerably different from a mass handing-off of children to professional "daycare workers".

    Wouldn't it be more useful to do a comparo between counries we actually have major dealings with, rrather than relatively small countries in northern Europe? The countries you mention are small in size, low in population, relatively limited in ethnic diversity and very heavily taxed. Not necessarily much there applicable to Canada.

  6. Posted by: Peter on Mar 12, 2006 @ 9:52am

    How much do parents who don't choose to put their kids into the government plan actually receive? Is this a case of only being helped with the cost of raising kids if you go along with the gov't plan and receiving nothing in the way of help if I, or my wife, stay home and do it? If that is the case I'll take the piddling $1200, thanks!

  7. Posted by: Shawn on Mar 17, 2006 @ 10:52pm

    John H,

    Canada is around 2x smaller than France, and it's just over 3x bigger than Sweden... meanwhile it's almost 10x SMALLER than the US... Re: size. Given that Canada's population is heavily concentrated around the St. Lawrence Seaway and in the completely bottom south of the country... No I don't see why we shouldn't compare ourselves with countries that have a high quality of life for the average person versus those with a lower one (US). To do otherwise makes absolutely no sense if we actually want to improve the way we live.

    I agree that disconnected daycare workers arent ideal... but the reason that the countries considered most gender equal all have 'professional daycare workers' is because the burden statistically disproportionately falls on women... Anyways, as I said, I think daycare handled on a municipal level would be preferrable because the service is closer to the people who receive it and thus more personal, unfortunately municipalities have such a limited ability to tax at present, and the CDN govt has such an unlimited ability, that funding this municipally is difficult until we change that.

  8. Posted by: john h on Mar 18, 2006 @ 8:52pm

    Canada is "2x smaller than France"!!??
    That'd be quite a surprise to anyone with access to an atlas; ditto for Sweden. We do however have a far lower population density than either one. Put another way it'd be far easier for either country to offer "universally accessible" daycare.
    We do believe parents in rural/remote areas are entitled to the same level of service as those in the cities, right?

  9. Posted by: john h on Mar 21, 2006 @ 11:59pm

    Apparently our "childcare program" will cost somewhere between $5 billion and $12 billion per year. You've gotta love how all the details have been worked out!

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