Canadians have long grappled with the meanings and purposes of child care.
As Canadians gather for ChildCare2020 -- the country's fourth national child care policy conference -- in Winnipeg on November 13, it’s worthwhile to reflect on how child care debates have unfolded over the past several decades, and particularly how the three previous national conferences -- in 1971, 1982, and 2004 -- acted as important landmarks in the sometimes-rocky landscape of Canadian child care history.
The Harper government’s tax package released Thursday is a throwback to the family policies of a bygone era. It turns its back on the pressing need for affordable, high quality child care; introduces a new tax measure which will mainly benefit traditional families with a stay at home spouse; and brings back the old family allowance in a modified form.
The government’s token response to calls for a national child care program is to modestly increase the Child Care Expense Deduction – representing a tiny fraction ($395 million) of the government’s package exceeding $26 billion. This will hardly make child care any more affordable, and will do nothing to create badly needed new spaces. The deduction has to be claimed by the lowest earning spouse and the increase of $1,000 per child will translate into just $150 per year for those in the bottom tax bracket.
No doubt about it — the federal NDP has moved childcare front and centre.
Reaction to the party’s childcare proposal elicited a wide range of responses. The Twittersphere and traditional media exploded after Tom Mulcair’s press conference last week as fans and foes of a universal, affordable, national childcare system debated whether such a system is needed or wanted — and whose responsibility childcare is anyway?
Perhaps most interesting was the backlash the proposal elicited with respect to the unfairness of allowing wealthier families to participate.
Leader of the Opposition Thomas Mulcair has launched a new round of debate over the need for a national child care and early learning program. The NDP poposal would help the provinces to finance quality, affordable child care systems, delivered by regulated providers in place of the current patchwork quilt of formal and informal care of varying price and quality.
If anything positive has emerged from Canada's rising inequality, it is that a bona fide discussion about "the Canada we want" is becoming a mainstream staple of political dialogue. Not only politicians and pundits but also ordinary Canadians have begun to make the connections between health and wealth, public services and social justice, economics and the social sphere, democracy, taxation and fairness. These issues, occupying public attention since the recession began in 2008 gained strength when the Occupy Movement shone a global spotlight on inequality last year.