Choice in Childcare

In the news this week the Conservative government is proudly touting the third anniversary of their “Universal Child Care Benefit”. But let us review what we have to celebrate.

After making tough cuts in the nineties to secure our prosperity by restoring Canada’s fiscal stability, and upon then delivering large tax-cuts, the Liberal government began, one by one, to refurbish and reinstate programs in a sustainable way.

Key among these was the long hoped-for, long-promised, National Early Learning and Childcare program. Under agreements signed with all ten provinces in 2005, provinces could invest federal funds in regulated early learning and child care programs for children under six, with flexibility to implement programs that addressed their specific needs and objectives. This program was in place, it was funded, and it provided a solid foundation upon which to build a prosperous future for all Canadians.

This program recognized the importance for all parents, no matter where they live, whether rural or urban, and at all economic levels, to be able to find real options in high quality, affordable child care – “whether it be for just one morning a week in a nursery school program, three days a week in a child-care centre, full-time in a family day care, at certain times of the year, or just for emergencies.”

It was also a great stride forward in levelling the playing field for our disadvantaged children, rich and poor alike; to help them cope and succeed better all through school, and all through life, and was a key element in addressing child poverty. Such a program helps all families with young children, but particularly low-income and single-parent families, to take employment or improve their qualifications so that they can improve their circumstances.

This program was good for families, good for business and good for the country as whole. It would have paid for itself in the long run in dividends of increased productivity, reduced poverty, and reduced crime rates.

But upon taking office, the Conservative government immediately began to starve and dismantle this program, substituting their “Choice in Childcare” benefit of $100/month. While a cheque from the government is nothing to sneeze at, the flim-flam here is the notion that this is some kind of alternative to a National Early Learning and Childcare program.

After tax, it barely covers (if at all) a single day of day-care per month, and amounts to little more than pocket change in comparison. It does nothing to encourage the creation of new care spaces, to even allow the existing ones to recruit, train, and retain qualified staff, nor even to survive. Canada is one of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) wealthiest countries, but our investments for high quality early learning and child care for Canadian families is among the worst.

This ‘Choice in Childcare’ benefit does nothing for childcare and nothing for choice, and is nothing to celebrate. Let us instead mourn the short-sighted loss of a superior opportunity to enhance Canada’s prosperity, productivity, and quality of life. We have a long way to go and we need to begin again as soon as possible.

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