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Monday, 3 November 2014

Child care and public health policy. Where is Canada heading?

The Harper government announcement on child care and family support is a pre-election activity that is drawing considerable attention with vastly differing opinions on its value. Globe and Mail coverage   

How can anyone question the value of putting money into the hands of parents so that they can provide better care? Detractors of the government will find subtle reasons, but where will this policy take Canadians? 

The downsides of the issue. How far really does $720 per child take any parent?  When child care can cost upwards of $50 per day.  It amounts to not even a month’s care. 

That the benefit will be applied January 1, but only first paid out in June, just a few months before the election smells of buying vote.  Parents and families will receive a nice retroactive pay check as the campaigning starts.   No doubt more than a few will be confused that the future cheques and benefits will reflect similar sized payouts unless they support the incumbents.

Digging deeper and most disconcerting, while the benefit increases the affordability of child care for those in need, it does nothing to improve availability or quality of care.

On the second half of the announcement is a step towards addressing a long standing inequity in Canadian tax laws that actually encourage families to obtain two incomes rather than having a single large earner.   The value however is predominately to be gained by higher incomes earners, hence a mitigating effort by the government by limiting the benefit to a maximum of $2000.  For the far left an unacceptable tax benefit for the rich, for the far right an unacceptable limitation on an inequity.  From a policy perspective, for a government that  made a promise, perhaps keeping no one happy is the sign of reasonable policy development.

It has been a decade since Paul Martin promised a universal child care program for Canadians, and an issue that Harper first dismantled and now is reconstructing in his own image.  A step forward, but not necessarily a stride in the right the direction. 

Perhaps most disconcerting in all of this policy development, is that there was no public discourse.  There was no public input, debate or opportunity for refinement.  Once again, our prime minister has taken a dictatorial approach to leadership, albeit the perception being that of a benevolent despot.

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