Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 12, 2005
Daycare divides political leaders
Conservatives' plan to give $1,200 a year to each child under six attacked by PM
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
When Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper announced his plan to give $1,200 per year to all Canadian families for each child under six, Prime Minister Paul Martin quickly attacked the plan.
"With every passing day, the very clear clash of values between Mr. Harper and myself, and the Conservatives and ourselves, becomes manifest," Martin told journalists in Newfoundland Dec. 5.
On child care, the values clash over whether parents or governments do the best job of raising children and preparing them for tomorrow's challenges.
For the Liberals, the answer is found in a national childcare system, of quality, universal, accessible care in an institutional setting emphasizing early learning and development.
For the Conservatives, parents and families make the best choices - a choice that might include daycare or having a parent stay at home.
"It's hard enough to be a parent, but government should support your choices, not limit them. In fact the only people who should be making these choices are parents, not politicians, not the government," Harper said when he announced the plan in Ottawa Dec. 5.
Harper's $10.9-billion plan would give the money directly to parents, and leave it up to them how they spend it. It would fund the existing federal and provincial agreements the Liberals reached on their $5-billion daycare plan for the first year only, then the Tories would implement their own plan.
The Tories would also allow credits through a community child care investment plan to enable the creation of 125,000 daycare spaces across the country each year.
"Families are the building blocks of society," said Harper. "Healthy families provide the love and support to raise the next generation of Canadians and to care for the elderly and the infirm."
In response to the Conservative promises, the Liberals upped the $5 billion the party already has committed in its last budget over five years by another $6 billion, to extend the program through 2015.
"This is about making affordable childcare a permanent addition to our social foundation. It's about making clear that this program is here to stay - because it's right for Canadian families, and it's what's right for our children," said Martin Dec 6.
The New Democratic Party supports a national daycare system, but thinks the Liberal plan does not go far enough. It wants all daycare to be publicly provided, like the public school system, while the Liberal plan allows for privately run daycare. The NDP wants to avoid the development of private "big box" type daycares.
The Canadian Catholic bishops have been on record for years as supporting a national daycare policy to help poor and working families.
However, increasingly various Catholic organizations are stressing that while they support that kind of assistance, they also want to ensure that the concept of subsidiarity is respected.
"A government cannot and must not take away from families the tasks they can do and want to do themselves," said Michele Boulva, the director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), an outreach of the Catholic bishops and the Knights of Columbus.
"Parents are really the first people responsible for their children's education and they must be able to count on the state's support, so we feel the government should define policies that allow families to opt for the programs they prefer," she said.
That includes both institutional forms of daycare and support for parents who wish to stay home with their children.
"It's an issue of social justice," says Boulva. "
Boulva said she was reiterating the points raised in a letter written by the chair of COLF, Baie-Comeau Bishop Pierre Morissette. "Equipping children for the future certainly means being devoted to their social and intellectual development - a major challenge to which your national system of early learning can contribute," Morissette wrote.
"But it also means responding to children's emotional needs - a primordial parental responsibility on which we do not place enough importance, especially during the first three years of a child's life, when the parent-child bond is formed."
The Liberals ridiculed the Tory plan as providing babysitting money for one day a month with no quality control; the Tories panned the Liberal's plan as one that discriminates against families with a stay-at-home parent, shift workers, rural residents and others unable to access the still relatively scarce institutional spaces.
Daycare advocates say a proper institutional system would require a far greater investment than the Liberals have offered. The Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada proposed a commitment of one per cent of Canada's gross domestic product to daycare within 15 years, reaching $10 billion per year.