Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 29, 2004
Childcare strategy under attack
Religious groups weigh in on daycare strategy
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
The Liberal's promised $5-billion national childcare strategy is under fire from some religious groups, while most child advocacy groups applaud the proposed plan as a good first step.
REAL Women, a pro-life women's group, warns the plan will hurt families wishing to have a parent remain at home.
According to a resolution passed in 2004, the Catholic Women's League (CWL) is urging the government to develop a strategy that would "give preference to family child care in a home environment over larger facilities."
CWL promotes bonding
The CWL, the largest national organization representing Catholic women, also says the government should educate parents about the importance of child bonding in the first three years of life. And the league wants families who qualify for the Canadian Assistance Plan to receive an equal share of benefits if they choose to stay home with their children instead of putting them in government daycare.
Yet, the multi-faith Campaign Against Child Poverty (CACP) says the plan is necessary to address the plight of more than a million Canadian children living below the poverty line.
Calling the strategy "long overdue," CACP steering committee member Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni says early years are important as "learning opportunities," a fact she says European countries have recognized for some time.
Di Giovanni, a retired Ontario Catholic educator, points out that no families will be forced to use the program, so she doesn't see how it will hurt families wishing to have a parent stay home.
An election promise last June, the childcare strategy was reiterated in the speech from the throne in October. Since then, Social Development Minister Ken Dryden has been trying to get the provinces to agree in principle so that the first billion dollars in the five-year plan can start flowing after the February budget.
The Liberal plan promises a national daycare strategy that meets the following criteria - quality, universality, accessibility and development.
In Dryden's maiden speech in the House of Commons, the former hockey player defended the plan saying, "Seven out of 10 women with children under the age of six are in the workforce. Childcare has become the way we live. It is a national understanding, a national expectation."
REAL Women describes the plan as "ludicrous" because a government study in 1986 indicated that the program would cost a minimum of $11.3 billion a year.
The organization warns such a program would turn Canada into a "socialist country in that the state will be raising our children rather than parents."
The Conservative Party echoes these concerns. "Telling parents that you're only going to get help if you allow the state to raise your child or be involved in the childcare, I think, is a less than optimum approach," says Conservative social development critic Peter Van Loan.
The Conservatives also oppose the plan because they say it interferes with provincial jurisdiction. The Liberals want to model the program after Quebec's $7-a-day daycare plan, but Quebec and other provinces want federal money with no strings attached.
Kenney pushes tax relief
During House debate on the plan, Conservative MP Jason Kenney, a devout Catholic, said he'd never heard a constituent ask for a national day care program. Instead, he says families are asking for tax relief.
"It disturbs me deeply when I hear the new minister of social development refer to the choice made by millions of Canadian parents to raise young children at home as an obsolete model of custodial care," Kenney said.
Kenney agreed that the vast majority of families now have both parents in the workforce, but said, "It is equally true the vast majority of those families would choose to have a full time dad or mom at home if they could make it work financially," he said.
"This government, reflecting a political philosophy which has become dominant in much of western civilization, has decided that it knows better than parents how to make economic choices and child-rearing choices for children," Kenney said.
While the Liberals get battered from the right, they're also facing criticism from the left. The Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada (CCAAC) Executive Director Maryann Bird warns, "Adding new money without changing how child care is provided will only magnify existing problems."
More money needed
In a study released in early November, the CCAAC described Canada's childcare provisions as a patchwork, and said the promised $1 billion a year funding isn't enough.
The study proposes a commitment of one per cent of Canada's GDP on day care within 15 years, amounting to about $10 billion annually, an amount the group says is only a fraction of the six per cent of GDP spent on primary through post-secondary education.
Such a program, the group believes, would provide universal, high quality, inclusive childcare with a learning component. It would also be affordable and accountable.
The report stressed that a solid, well funded framework was "essential to addressing many of our most pressing challenges including promoting a healthy population, reducing child poverty, advancing women's equality, deepening social inclusion and building a knowledge economy."
The CCAAC plan echoed a report released a week earlier by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which praised Quebec's child care policies but criticized Canada's as fragmented and under-funded.
The NDP has urged the federal government to guarantee a publicly funded and delivered daycare plan.
"We have already seen an entire generation of children left behind," said NDP Leader Jack Layton. According to the NDP release, only 20 per cent of children under the age of seven are in regulated day care.
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