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Unplanned parenthood

Editorial by Bruce Wark


“So, what did you learn in school today?” I asked little Johnny as we lounged in the rec room munching popcorn and quaffing Moose. “Well, I learned that Tommy Douglas is the Greatest Canadian because he brought us universal medicare,” said Johnny as he cracked another brewski. “And I learned that Stephen Harper is the second greatest Canadian ’cause he wants to give parents with a kid under the age of six $23.08 a week to blow on beer and popcorn.”

“Son,” I said wagging my finger. “The beer and popcorn stuff is Liberal propaganda—Harper’s $3.29 per day isn’t nearly enough to buy suds and pops. But Steve does think it’s just the right amount to pay for Tory child care!” Johnny frowned as he slipped off his stool and staggered to the can. While he’s away yellowing the bowl, let me explain, gentle reader, why the Harper child-care plan isn’t worth a bag of stale popcorn or a mug of flat beer.

First, hop into my time machine and let’s flash back to 1993, the year the Liberals swept to power promising—ta dah!—A National Child Care Plan. “Quality, accessible child care is an economic advantage for Canada,” the Liberal campaign bible roared. But they soon forgot their promise and chopped the budget instead. Correction, folks, let’s make that No National Child Care Plan. Now, back into our time machine and let’s flash-forward to 2004, the year the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development described Canada’s child-care system as a wasteful patchwork of schemes focused on babysitting rather than early childhood education. A report in the Globe said the OECD “paints a picture of a child-care system adrift, with no overarching vision. It is underfunded, with pitiful staff salaries and subsidies doled out to a small number of the poorest families. The premises of child-care centres are often shabby, workers are poorly trained and frequently quit…And waiting lists are long.”

The OECD pointed out that nearly three-quarters of mothers with young children work outside the home, most of them full time. But Canada has only enough licensed child-care spaces for about 20 percent of their kids. It said Canada lags behind a growing number of countries with publicly-funded early childhood education. In Britain, 60 percent of kids are in licensed care, while in Denmark the figure is 78 percent.

All of a sudden it’s February 2005, and the increasingly unpopular Liberals finally promise a five-year, $5 billion national child-care plan. In the first year, they ship $700 million to the provinces and then, on January 23, they go down to a well-deserved defeat. Enter Stephen Harper’s Tories, who say to the provinces, we’ll give you two years of the Liberal money but that’s it. Oh, and by the way, we’re sending parents $1,200 a year for every kid under six. That works out to a munificent $23.08 per week, not much help when licensed child-care in Halifax costs $25-$35 a day.

“The Conservatives don’t have a child-care plan,” says Elaine Ferguson, of the advocacy group Child Care Connection Nova Scotia. “They’re calling it that but it’s really assistance to families.” Ferguson explains that the Tory money won’t increase the number of spaces or raise wages for trained child-care workers. “The Conservatives seem to think women should be in the home taking care of their kids,” Ferguson says. “But that’s not the reality we’re dealing with.”

As little Johnny slips back on his stool and chugs his Moose, I tell him politely that Stephen Harper is far from being a great Canadian. “What if Tommy Douglas had sent sick people three bucks a day and called it medicare?” I ask. “That’s not medicare. It’s not even beer and popcorn.”

Johnny shakes his head. “You’re so intelligent, Dad,” he says admiringly. “I wish I was half as smart. I also wish I wasn’t 25 years old and still in junior high.”

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