Has child care finally become the nation's business?


CBC News Viewpoint | June 3, 2004 | More from Georgie Binks

Georgie Binks Years ago, I knew a divorced man who had custody of two of his children. They were twins, eight years old at the time. Every morning he had to be at work at four a.m. So the twins got themselves up, dressed as best they could and trudged off to school. They had no option. Their Dad wouldn't have been able to work otherwise. He tells me, "I had their lunches made and I would phone them to wake them up. One of my sons was okay with it, but the other had a difficult time."

There were probably hundreds of kids across the country this morning who did the same thing. While most parents in Canada try to come up with the best child care they can when their kids are born, there are other kids who simply grow up a lot sooner than they should taking care of themselves. There are many other children who are dropped off at homes where the TV is abundant and love and stimulation isn't.

So when I look at the different platforms of the politicians I wonder if any of the promises about child care would have helped this man and his kids. Or could they help a police officer friend of mine who works a midnight shift every so often and always finds herself in a child-care bind. No one wants to take their kids to day care at midnight or four in the morning. But these are the kinds of situations single parents often find themselves in.

To the day-care mavens, these are the complicated issues. Right now they are applauding the fact that the simple ones may finally be addressed. Martha Friendly, co-ordinator of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit at the University of Toronto, says, "I'm very pleased that all of the parties including the Conservatives have child care in their platform, even though I don't agree with their (the Conservatives') position. If you look at the other four parties, they have quite forward-looking positions. The Bloc supports child care, the NDP has always supported universal child care, and the Liberal platform has good detail."

Here's what they are promising. The Green Party says it is committed to developing a national child-care strategy one that includes non-profit, professional day care, increased support for at-home parents and a greater focus on family education, health and basic nutrition.

The NDP is next with a promise "to provide stable, long-term federal funds to create an additional 200,000 high quality, affordable, publicly-funded child-care spaces within four years."

The Bloc Quebecois has its heart in the right place as far as child care goes. By virtue of its other policies it's not looking at a national program. It wants to "ensure that Ottawa transfers $630 million that will allow the Quebec government to put in place a universal parental leave program."

On June 3, 2004 the Liberals unveiled their plan promising a $5 billion Quebec-style national child-care system that would create 250,000 licensed child-care spaces by 2009. Leader Paul Martin says the bureaucratic obstacles that prevented a promised day-care system in the mid-1990s have been removed.

Hmmmm. I feel that the Liberals simply waited to see what everyone else had on their plate and upped the best offer by 50,000. Kind of like a child-care poker game.

Finally, Conservative leader Stephen Harper says that rather than boost spending on institutional day care, his party would offer tax breaks to families with children, no matter how they are raised. Unfortunately those tax breaks couldn't be used in more licensed spaces, because they wouldn't be creating more licensed spaces.

The sad thing is that his party wants to tighten child pornography laws and some members want to offer "counselling" to women considering having an abortion, but creating child care spaces something that could actually make a difference in the lives of children and their parents isn't even on the map.

The issue isn't simply child care. It's also about enhancing the experience of children. Friendly says she thinks public sentiment has changed so that it isn't just about a place to put children while Mom works, it's about child development. "Women are in the work force, they don't want to go back home and financially they won't. But it really does matter where children are when their mothers are working. It's good for kids to be in early childhood programs," she says. Many stay-at-home mothers have their children in nursery school or preschool programs by the time they are three years old. Probably the best way to look at it is simply education expanded to reach younger minds.

Since women started pouring into the workforce in the early '70s, it's been evident to people with children that child care is a necessity. But for a long time critics argued that if people wanted to have children it was their job to take care of them that it simply wasn't an issue for society. It seems as if we needed to go through an entire generation of children for society to realize that, in fact, child care was important. People who now wipe their brows, thankful that their children are grown and they don't have the worry and expense of child care, are well aware that other people's children deserve something better.

Child care isn't just a big city issue. The concern about child care and what politicians are going to do about it is something that hits parents across the country. For instance, a mother in New Brunswick writes to the local paper complaining about her difficulties in finding a place for her sons in licensed day care. In Yukon, Jasbir Randhawa, the president of the Yukon Child Care Association, invited election candidates to their annual meeting to discuss child care just days ago. The NDP and Liberal candidates showed up. Randhawa says, "Right now the NDP talks about actually doing something, but it is difficult to take the Liberals seriously when they have been in power for so long. How long can people wait? How long can children wait? They are growing up."

Randhawa stays at home because she was not able to find the care she needed for her children, and reflects that, "I will be happy if I will be able to find things for my grandchildren, but the way things are going, who knows?"

As every parent can tell you, you have to learn how to walk before you run. The same is true for day care in Canada. It's just sad it's taken so long for Canada to learn how to walk. Let's just hope the government that is elected this time decides to start walking instead of simply sitting on its behind, like a lazy toddler.


Fascinating that it seems only conservatives seemed to comment on Ms. Binks' column. They are all assuming only one particular situation - everyone is out to scam the system and looking for something at taxpayers expense.


They are only concerned with their own pocket book. Where is compassion and caring here? Not every one is out to cheat the system. Some could really use some help and a break. This extends not only to child care but to many many other areas as well.


Brian Scott | Ottawa
You appear to be taking each of the parties at face value when evaluating their platforms. With the Liberal platform, I wonder how much of what is being promised will actually come to be, should the Liberals achieve a majority. Certainly history would tell us that we should hold out little hope.


I firmly agree with the point made that "The issue isn't simply child care. It's also about enhancing the experience of children."


I do not think that the federal government will succeed at any level with respect to child care. It has certainly not succeeded with health care and education, and I see no reason to believe that is will succeed with child care either.


If families had a few thousand dollars in tax incentives for each pre-school child (and a lesser amount for older school aged children), this added buying power would drive child care businesses toward improved services and (if required) improved capacity.


Nobody knows their child care needs better than parents. Best to put the power in their hands to direct the services that are offered to them.


Steve Chudley

Good topic, with a myriad of possible solutions, beginning with the question is the government really, really concerned about children?


I say this because on the one hand the government of Canada uses limited health care dollars to fund abortions, the greatest terminal form of violence against the women and men of tomorrow and on the other hand is concerned enough about children that it provides day care spaces, paying people minimum wage to look after a herd of children while parents go off to work to pay their taxes and try to get ahead of the game.


Don't misunderstand me, but for SOME people, who have no choice, as in the example of a single parent, this is GREAT ! Allowing them choices. But is the government penalizing stay at home parents, as in the USA where there is a marriage penalty.


Caesar J.B. Squitti | Thunder Bay, Ontario

Well, what do you know - another working woman lecturing Canadians that they should be supporting the children of other working women. What a surprise.


Yes siree ladies, have a baby or three and don't worry for a moment about raising those children - the almighty state will do it for you while you do something more fulfilling with your life.


Look, I don't mind paying for day-care for women whose mates have died or left them and who need to work to live. But don't ask me to pay for daycare for children of women who make a conscious decision to engage in risky sexual behavior with no husband to help support their accidental offspring. As a society, we shouldn't be rewarding bad decisions.


And don't expect me to pay for daycare for children of dual income families where one parent makes enough to allow them to subsist. Lets face it, most dual income families don't work to live - they work for late model car or cars, the comfy house in the burbs, the off-shore vacations and the big screen TV. Let them drive an older car, watch a 20 inch TV, down size the house to a condo and leave one parent at home with THEIR kids.


I am sick of people looking to big brother and my wallet to solve all their self-inflicted life problems. If you want kids - pay for them yourself. Otherwise put them up for adoption at birth so the can be raised by parents who are able to take responsibility for them.


Ron Laffin | Toronto

I know I only represent a tiny minority of Canadians but frankly I'm not in favour of the government spending billions of dollars to create more day care spaces.


My wife stays at home so she can pour herself into raising our 3 kids. It's a big financial sacrifice but there are enough studies out there that show that by and large it's parents that can provide the best care for their own children, not day care workers.


It just concerns me that Canadian society is constantly pushing for children to go to day care as soon as possible, followed by nursery school and then kindergarten. Families who have more than 2 children whose mom stays at home for a few years before they go to school are slowly being branded as hopelessly old-fashioned dinosaurs out on the fringes of society.


Where will all this lead to in 10-20 years? I personally agree with the Conservative's position on this issue (although not on many other issues). Give parents a tax break so they can take care of their own kids in the way only they can.


Rod Luden