Daycare Straitjacket

Worth A Look, Welfare, Frontier Centre

Ottawa’s new national daycare plan, under discussion today by government bigwigs in Vancouver, would be great for the country’s unionized daycare centres. But it would be awful for most Canadian parents, including those with kids already in daycare. It would also be bad news for the 75 per cent of Canadian kids not in daycare — and for the rising number of children cared for by relatives.

In other words, it would be a bad deal for almost everyone.

In their effort to spend $5 billion of taxpayers’ money, federal Social Development Minister Ken Dryden and the provincial ministers will not only annoy stay-at-home folk. They will tick off almost every Canadian parent who gives this scheme some thought.

Dryden has already stated that the federal cash can’t go to parents or their relatives. But why not give parents choices in child-rearing?

For example, here’s who will oppose Ottawa’s gag on their choices.

  • Parents who might choose to take their kids out of daycare some day and don’t want to be financially worse off when that happens.
  • Parents who are thinking of daycare, but also want to be able to have their children cared for by relatives, friends, nannies and others.
  • Single parents who want daycare, but who also like the idea of choice. (This is especially critical, since single parents often don’t work the nine-to-five hours that most daycare centres keep.)
  • All parents who might want daycare for part of the week but who, for the remainder of it, want their child with some old-fashioned, non-government caregiver — say grandpa or grandma.
  • All of the above parents, in addition to families where one spouse stays home, should tell Dryden to ditch his restrictive approach.
  • Alberta and Quebec have already told Dryden to forget the Ottawa-knows-best mindset. B.C. Children and Family Development Minister Stan Hagen has also expressed concern about Ottawa’s anti-parental choice stance.

    Great. Here’s what Hagen and others should do.

    They should tell Ottawa to scrap direct daycare subsidies and instead introduce direct child deductions for parents through their income tax. That way, parents can use the tax savings to pay for daycare, “relative care” or for their own stay-at-home option.

    For low-income parents who don’t pay much income tax, Ottawa and the provinces can simply rebate the cash.

    If there have to be daycare subsidies, then Ottawa and the provinces should only finance parents based on income — and not disperse the money to daycare centres.

    Canadian politicians should promote various child-care options. Parents don’t need an Ottawa-designed straitjacket for them or their kids. When it comes to looking after their children, they need the government to help give them more, not less, choice.

    Mark Milke, author of Tax Me, I’m Canadian, can be reached at