Friday, June 1, 2007

Fund the Child?

And not the system?

A controversial article in today's Globe and Mail highlights a cornucopia of interesting statistics around Canada's childcare systems. The author's argument revolves around the way Canada's proposed childcare system could potentially keep some families/single-mothers below the poverty line--instead of providing the 'relief' of child-support.

The author is quite clearly not an advocate of universal daycare--and is also clearly opposed to Bill C-330, a New Democrat private member's bill. This bill, if passed, would force any future money given to provinces to be used towards Federal funded daycare. However, the bill's survival is unlikely given it will probably not have completed three readings before the next election.

What I find curious is the analogy this author makes between the Canadian experience with universal daycare, and the American, as she insinuates 'failure.' I am not well-read on the particulars of the American experience, but given the vast differences in how our countries collect taxes and distribute them, I would think the analogy is somewhat unfair. Canada's provinces have vastly differing revenue collecting capacities from their state counterparts, and to disregard (as this author does) this inequality is to ignore a crucial 'argument' for Universal daycare.

The author does, however, highlight some alarming statistics:

One would think that if parents saw the offer of heavily subsidized daycare as the poverty-alleviating solution it is purported to be, Canada's poor mothers would be beating a path to its door. Clearly, they are not. Each parent is so unique in their life circumstances that although daycare may be a solution for one, it may be the defeat of another. That parents are in the best position to determine this should be the basis for all child-care policy in this country and should be a guaranteed right for all parents. To not do so is tantamount to promoting a monoculture.

Indeed, it was truly liberal U.S. feminists such as Anna Quindlen and Barbara Ehrenreich who saw their country's "welfare reform" for what it really was — workfare — and correctly predicted that many lives would be the worse for it.

While Canada's daycare policies are not yet workfare, poor mothers do receive a massive and disproportionate amount of state benefits only if they fit themselves and their children into the market economy. Toronto will pay the full $18,000 daycare fee if a mother goes out and earns the same. Will it pay $36,000 if she has two children? If we follow Sweden's lead, it will. It was reported that a mother in that country along with her truck-driver husband requested a small subsidy to lift them above the poverty line while they looked after their own children. City officials said no, offering two $20,000-a-year daycare spots instead.


The author concludes her argument with the suggestion that perhaps universal daycare is not the only solution.

The sight of two eloquent witnesses, a Christian minister from Ontario and a home-schooling mother of five from Alberta, arguing for diversity, choice and inclusiveness while never once criticizing daycare or a family's right to choose it was something to behold, especially when compared to the intransigence of the federal parties still supporting this bill.

Perhaps we need a 21st century update of a classic liberal doctrine. "The greatest choice for the greatest number" should be our country's new mantra. Family policy would be a wonderful place to start

Indeed "choice" is crucial, but how such choices should be worked through our complex and multi-tiered federal money transfers is an outstanding question. Perhaps 'universal' is the place to start. Only after something has been established can that thing be changed. I think it best women advocate for something rather than nothing. Imperfect as 'universal' may be, let's not imitate the parliamentary process--childcare is an urgent reality, in some form or another...

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