Politics and child care

by DaniGirl on December 12, 2005 · 8 comments

in Uncategorized

I’m so very reluctant to get political on blog for a number of reasons. First, because I’m mostly bored to tears by the endless punditicisms during an election. Second, because I always fear that my brain is not big enough to contribute a reasoned, well-considered argument on the subject simply because I scan and take in a lot of information, but I have the retention skills of your average pool skimmer. Finally, because I really think choosing between Stephen Harper and the Liberals is a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. And yes, I switched from party to person on purpose.

But now one of the central election platforms seems to be child care, and I have some opinions on that subject. Get a fresh cup and settle in, this might run long.

For the benefit of our outside observers, the basic promises made to date are as follows. The governing Liberals, widely believed to be lying, cheating fat cat bureaucrats living large at the expense of the average joe, have promised $5B over five years for a “nation-wide system that embraces the shared principles of quality care, universal inclusiveness, accessibility and an emphasis on development and learning.” The Conservatives, led by the truly frightening Stephen Harper (imagine George Bush, but right wing-ier and less charismatic – yikes!) have promised $1200 per year per preschool child for the family to ostensibly pay toward day care fees.

In theory, I like the Liberal’s concept the best. Spend more money to make universally accessible, quality day care. Except, of all the Canadian families I know who have children in daycare – all of them, virtual and IRL friends – only one family I can think of uses a day care centre. The vast, vast majority of families use in-home daycare which is unlicenced, unregulated and will be completely untouched by this promised funding.

For us, what I call “institutional” daycare (that used to be a slag, now it’s just a term of convenience) wasn’t even an option, because there is only one daycare centre in the entire city of Ottawa, the nation’s capital, that accepts children one year of age or younger on a part-time basis. It was also prohibitively expensive.

In 2003, when I started back to work after my maternity leave with Tristan was done, it would have cost in the neighbourhood of $800 to $1000 per month, per child, for full-time care in a daycare centre. We ended up finding a neighbourhood grandmother who took care of Tristan with her five-year-old grandson and a half a dozen before-and-after school kids after an exhausting and disheartening search. When we moved later that year, I had to start my search all over again, and ended up paying a third-party company $100 just for a list of referrals to people offering daycare in our neighbourhood, whom I had to then interview and do background checks on myself to find a suitable match.

While Tristan and Simon are treated as members of the family, there are relatively minor issues that come up from time to time that make me question (agonize for sleepless hours) whether Bobbie is the best possible care provider for them, but the simple fear of having to start over from scratch in the search stops me from even considering making a switch.

As it is, we pay $30 per boy per day. We have no written agreement, and what to do about holidays, sick days (hers or theirs), vacation time, changes to the schedule or any other issue is worked out on an as-needs basis, negotiated politely while I put the boys’ boots and coats on at the end of the day. This flexibility is what I gained from not using a formal daycare centre, but is also turning out to be the Achilles heel of our relationship.

So in theory, then, I should like the Conservative’s plan, which would put an extra $100 per child in my pocket each month, regardless of whether the family uses child care or not. It is basically an extension of the Child Tax Benefit we already get from the government, except it is not income tested, meaning everyone (rich or poor, urban or rural) gets exactly the same amount. When I walk through my neighbourhood and see the half-million dollar homes and think they will get the same $100 as the single mom supporting her three kids who lives next door to me, I can think of more than a few problems with this scheme.

Scott Reid, the Liberal’s director of communications, got in a lot of trouble this weekend for saying that the Conservative’s promise was problematic because it could allow parents to use their child-care benefits to simply buy “beer and popcorn.” I have to say, I said more or less the same thing myself when I first heard about it. This is a token and meaningless amount. Would $1200 a year make it easier for anybody to make the decision to stay home rather than work? Only somebody who was already on the cusp of being able to make that choice already, I would imagine. And $100 a month barely covers three days of daycare out of the average month for us, and I know for a fact we have one of the more affordable arrangements.

I’m not impressed. The idea that affordable, accessible and regulated day care has become a national election issue should have me dancing with joy. I should feel the validation of finally being a significant demographic, of finally being able to contribute meaningfully to the conversation of politics. Rather, I’m left feeling disheartened and disillusioned.

This is the best our national leaders can do?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Beanie Baby December 12, 2005 at 1:38 pm

You know, I’ve been depressed about this too. And I haven’t blogged about it because it’s just too damned depressing.
I mean, ideally, more money for institutional daycare should mean more spots for less cost. Wouldn’t that be nice? But if they’ve basing this on the quebec system, with all of its flaws, most people probably won’t see a red cent of that money. Whereas $1200 may be chicken feed, really, but at least the distribution would be fair. Only ye gods, it’s Stephen Harper!

2 BeachMama December 12, 2005 at 1:55 pm

I too am in a muddle over this, and is why I do not want to blog about it. But, as a SAHM, who does not qualify for any child tax benefits and but willingly has two at home businesses in order to stay at home with my child. $1200 a year would be welcome. I am one who feels that there are no benefits(governmental) to staying at home to take care of your own kids. The only benefits are personal ones for me, my husband and my son. In a perfect world they would combine both systems. Why should my tax dollars go to parents who use daycare? (And yes, with two businesses I still pay taxes!)
Oh the can of worms Dani 😉

3 Dean Dad December 12, 2005 at 2:27 pm

Sheesh, rub it in, why don’t you? Here in the States, the official attitude towards working women is that they should stay home and home-school their kids in intelligent design (unless they’re on welfare, in which case they should go to work and their kids should, um, well, gee, is it getting hot in here?…)
If, by some miracle, we were to get a political climate NOT dominated by angry Texan Baptists with guns, I’d take the position that day care, like public education generally, is properly a public good. The entire society benefits when quality daycare is available to all. Therefore, the entire society should pay for it.
But that’s me, a lonely blue voter in a blood-red country.
I don’t know Stephen Harper from a fox terrier, but I have a hard time believing he’d be worse than W. That might make a good cross-border parlor game, actually. Our guy is worse because…

4 Sugarmama December 12, 2005 at 3:20 pm

I’m with Dean Dad in wondering how the hell any society can NOT see that quality daycare should be available for the benefit of the entire society, whether or not any one individual has children. While we’re dreaming, though, why not also pay for parents to stay home with new babies like I’m told many European countries do. I know a woman from Bosnia who said that back when she first had her kids (now teen-agers) she made more money being a SAHM for the first year of their lives than her husband did employed at a “regular” job. And, too, why not throw LOTS more money towards teachers’ salaries? In the U.S., at least, they are paid embarrassingly low salaries for very tough work. This is one of the most important jobs there is, in my opinion. Why not make teaching a desirable, even prestigious profession that people might even compete for? (Okay, I’m off the soapbox now…)

5 Kristina December 12, 2005 at 4:45 pm

An articulate post, Dani. This is indeed a quandry – devil and the deep blue, indeed.
Sugarmama, I hear you with regard to the ‘wish-list’ for SAHMs, but also consider that part of the reason your friend made more than her husband as a SAHM is because the employed citizens are taxed up the wazoo to pay for those benefits. Medical and educational benefits in many European countries can also be wonderful, but again, the taxes are incredibly high to pay for it.
That said, I wouldn’t mind slightly higher taxes in this country if it meant improved social benefits, but the question remains: is that indeed where my money would end up going?

6 yvonne December 12, 2005 at 8:21 pm

I would happily take the $100 per month per child. It is a drop in a bucket but every drop counts. By the time any of them live up to their promises, all of our kids will be grown and we will have grandchildren no doubt.

7 JoJo December 12, 2005 at 8:53 pm

I have to work full time and so does my hubby so we must use daycare at 195$ a week for our daughter. If either one of us didn’t work we’d homeless in three months. So I am not staying home for 100$ a month.
I’d like them to take it one step further. For the year that I have chosen to stay home and get my EI and run up my line of credit, why not invest that 1200$ in my EI so that I can have at least 80% of my salary. I figure that I pay the max at 800 and something every year so surely investing 1200$ on my behalf should do something. I’ll take the 1200$ for the other 4 years and try to pay off my heating bill but please let this be known:
Stephen Harper could hand out 12,000$ a year per child and he still wouldn’t get my vote. He is WAY worse than W; thankfully he hasn’t got any real power.

8 Danigirl December 13, 2005 at 1:34 pm

I think Dean Dad wins the comment of the week award for reminding me that we should indeed count our blessings for not being under a political regime dominated by “angry Texan Baptists with guns.” Did I mention the other central issue this election is banning handguns?
I love the variety of opinions and perspectives that you all bring to the comment box. If only *we* ruled the universe…
xo Dani

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