Yesterday, Stephen Harper announced a 'new' child care spending initiative.
Let's take a long look at this program - warts, pimples and all:
First feature: $1200/year/child funding for child care.
Once again, our friends in the Conservative party have resorted to the old saw about "follow-me" funding. More or less, this is a $1200 grant handed to a family for each child that they have.
If you live in an urban area of any real size (Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Toronto...), the cost of daycare is a hell of a lot more than $1200/year. The lucky parents I know pay out between $500-$600 in daycare PER MONTH, PER CHILD - that means that the Conservative's $1200 subsidy vanishes by the end of February in a given year.
Second Feature: $250,000,000 To Fund Employer and Community Child Care Space Creation
First of all, most employers aren't interested in creating child care spaces. They can't afford to. This particular move on the part of the Conservatives puzzles me - the most "pro-business" party out there, and they are thinking that businesses are going to magically find money for building day-cares? Even in booming Alberta, I can't see that happening.
While community child care programs do exist, and could be expanded, the Conservatives have overlooked what it costs to do that expansion. $250M is peanuts when you spread it across the entire nation. Worse, it does nothing to ensure those spaces continue to exist beyond the funding to create them.
The one feature that the Conservatives will argue is in their plan's favour is that it works to the benefit of "stay-at-home" parented families. Ah - the wealthy families - I understand. Most of the people I know (including my professional colleagues) can't afford to do the "single income" thing. The best they can manage is the 1 1/2 incomes where one of the parents scales back to working 3 days a week or something. This is reality for parents living in Canada. These are families with household incomes in excess of $80,000/year - I know plenty who make much less than that!
Of course, you could argue that people are living beyond their means, but doing so makes no sense in a city like Calgary - an "average" house is pushing $300,000 right now; heating and power bills are in the stratosphere; and owning a car (more or less essential in this 'burg) will eat up few hundred more each month. Most people I know have rescaled their lives around their children's needs - the fact of it is that it costs money period.
Conservatives like to whine about how 'traditional families' are being left out by "day-care" funding programs. Economically speaking, making daycare more affordable helps people who are in _need_ of assistance a lot more than a blind grant handed out willy-nilly. People who live on a lot less than $80,000/year need affordable day care - otherwise they wind up on the street. The myth of the "Daddy goes to work, and Mommy stays home to raise the children" family is simply not real for most families in urban Canada. Two incomes are needed just to make ends meet (not to buy the mythical Porsche that some imply the two income families all have in their driveways) Those rare families that can afford to have one parent stay at home only benefit marginally from an extra $1200/year of income. (Hey - hand me an extra $1200 - I'll find something to do with it, I'm sure)
If you take a valuation stance, consider how the CPC is "valuing" the work of parents at home:
An average full-time worker will put in approximately 2000 hours in a year at their workplace. $1200 / 2000 hrs = $0.60 / hr. Heck - a child laborer in a Bangladeshi clothing sweatshop makes better wages than that. The $8.50/hr McDonald's pays works out to nearly $17,000 a year. So not only is the $1200 "allowance" nearly useless for families in real situations, it's actually a slap-in-the-face in terms of valuing "domestic" work.
One last potshot - did anyone else notice the lack of acknowledgement in there about families where the parents are divorced? So who gets the $1200? Especially when the trend these days in divorces is towards "shared custody" arrangements?
Once again, the Conservatives have reached into their magic hat and pulled out a bald turkey instead of a cute bunny rabbit.