Friday, December 12, 2008

Good Child Care Policies Are Good Economic Policies: Time for Stephen Harper to Wake Up

While everyone is most focused on how to get us immediately out of the current economic/financial crisis, it's important for government to be focused on medium and long term goals as well. This government has proved itself completely incapable of taking the long view on anything. The environment is one example of that, but another is child care. Good early learning and child care policies are good economic policies. When you invest in early learning and child care you allow more parents to enter the work force, as right now some are unable due to lack of affordable or available care for their young children. At the same time, quality early learning centres allow children to enter formal school better able to meet their full potential. But as Scott noted, a recent UN report comparing the approaches to child care of 25 developed countries, ranked us dead last, even behind the United States. It's time for our government to wake up and get serious on this issue. No one can dispute that changing our approach wouldn't be good for our economy in the medium and long term.

And it is affordable to take action now. Harper's "universal child care benefit" costs TWICE the amount of the original Liberal child care program. I was glad to see that the coalition agreement included a commitment to increased investments in child care before its term is up (as the first priority business will still remain addressing the current economic crisis). But Harper still has a chance to get on board. Given that investments made now matter for where our country stands economically a few years from now I still think the next budget should have increased revenue devoted to rebuilding a national child care program. Why not have the $100 a month cheques be means-tested (say a family with a dual income above $150,000 or $200,000 a year does not receive them anymore) and use the savings to go towards rebuilding a national child care program again? Does anyone dispute that wouldn't be more sensible policy? On what basis would such a policy be opposed? The monthly child care cheques would only be taken away from those who never needed them to provide child care in the first place and the savings can be used to actually create more quality and available child care spaces for those who desperately need them.

The opposition parties hold the cards here and Harper has lost their confidence through his own incompetence and gamesmanship, so there's no reason Harper should get away with doing what he was planning to do anyway. We should get him to commit to doing this and I know we would find support among the general public for doing so. 62% of people voted for parties that support a national child care program and polls have consistently shown that Canadians preferred the Liberal plan to the Conservative one. We have an opportunity to force Harper to do what's right, let's make use of that because we might not get another opportunity if the budget ends up passing (for if it does pass with few concessions and commitments on Harper's part, then within a matter of months he could easily be back to his old ways of reckless repeated confidence votes with the coalition threat then gone). If Harper's not willing to budge then he is clearly taking our support for granted. As of now Blogging Tories and Conservative pundits alike are all gleefully musing that the Liberals will support the budget no matter what's in it. We should send a clear message then we won't just accept a few token concessions. I see that message has started to be spread by Liberals but I think perhaps we should lay down some non-negotiables for what has to be in the budget in order to earn our support.

Our economy and international competitiveness, not to mention families across the country, will undoubtedly be better off with a real universal child care program that the dead last approach we have now. If Harper won't listen then he clearly hasn't heard the voices of the electorate, he clearly doesn't understand the economy. And someone who doesn't understand the economy clearly won't be the best person to get us out of this economic crisis. If Harper's not willing to change his approaches to governing on not just this issue, but on fiscal stimulus, helping those most hard hit by the economic crisis, abandoning his brazen abuse of confidence votes, showing us the the real state of the nation's finances, amongst many others, then he clearly hasn't realized he's in a minority and he deserves to be brought down and replaced.


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4 comments:

Socially Active said...

When we are all investing in our Children we are all investing in our future. And when the Children are prepared we are prepared.

Children which lack early childhood care are more likely to lose their way and become a burden to socity. TV is NOT a solution, it is problem.

It is widely established that Children with preschool training do better and definately better in languages. Unfortunately it doesn't shock me that Harpet simply doesn't get this.

Wayne Smith said...

You said, "Why not have the $100 a month cheques be means-tested (say a family with a dual income above $150,000 or $200,000 a year does not receive them anymore) and use the savings to go towards rebuilding a national child care program again? Does anyone dispute that wouldn't be more sensible policy? On what basis would such a policy be opposed?"

Means testing the child benefit would not be a more sensible policy; it would be a disaster.

Programs for poor people are poor programs. Social services must be universal. Everyone benefits according to their needs, and everyone pays according to their ability to pay.

Anything else leads to poor people getting the shaft, and society as a whole being diminished.

Refundable tax credits are a necessary part of a progressive and fair tax system.

Non-refundable credits benefit only the rich.

Means testing is a false economy.

Danielle Takacs said...

Do you have anything specific to back up that view?

The National Child Benefit Supplement (NCBS) is a means-tested program and I haven't heard any proposals to scrap it from any political party or any anti-poverty group. I don't support sipmly rolling the $100 a month "Universal Child Care Benefit" (UCB) into the NCBS program though because that would leave the income threshold too low.

I'm unaware of any reason why putting an income cap on which families could receive the UCB wouldn't still represent large savings for the government - after all I doubt it would much more to administer then all the other tax credits with all sorts of eligibility requirements the Conservatives have set up.

I believe the McGuinty government set up a means-tested programs such as the Ontario Child Benefit (OCB) to help low-income families as well and I haven't heard many criticisms that that only benefits the rich.

But admitedly I'm not a tax expert, I just proposed what to me seemed like a way to shift government expenditures from providing cheques to parents who don't need them to afford child care and moving that money towards building up a greater national child care network so that parents can have real choice in child care.

jaycurrie said...

"Why not have the $100 a month cheques be means-tested (say a family with a dual income above $150,000 or $200,000 a year does not receive them anymore) and use the savings to go towards rebuilding a national child care program again?"

Hello...the Child Care Benefit is taxed at the marginal rate of the lower income person in the household. If your household income is 200K you get the cheques and then have to declare them as income and have that taxed.

This is different from the tax free Child Tax Benefit and you should know that before taking a run at my "beer and popcorn" money.