Responses to Mallick’s Childcare Column

Blog, Education, Ben Eisen

Heather Mallick has a column in The Toronto Star today blasting the federal government’s childcare policy. I have a few comments to make in response to various points that she raises. I’ll post quotations from the column in italicized block quotes, followed by my  responses in a regular font.  

I can chat away here endlessly, explaining that Conservatives prefer wives to women, mothers to wives, and stay-at-home mothers to working mothers. They like a man who goes off to work, with a wife and children relying on his money.

This is a crass generalization and a load of nonsense. It doesn’t merit a substantive response, so I’ll just note that this inflammatory nugget, coming about 100 words into the column, indicates that the author is not actually trying to persuade anybody who disagrees with her. Instead, she indicates clearly at the outset that her purpose is to offer up comfort food to a like-minded audience.

The Conservative approach — $100 a month whether you need it or not — shows both disdain and cluelessness. That money wouldn’t buy me a roll of TTC tokens and a snow shovel to get the stroller out of the driveway.

She’s right that giving $100 a month to middle-class and affluent families is hopelessly unfocused government spending. Spending in this area (like most elements of the welfare state) should be focused on the people who most need assistance. Mallick shows a disconnection from reality, however, when she minimizes the importance of the $1200 per-child annual allowance to most of the people receiving the money. Mallick elsewhere in the column calls the childcare allowance “a pittance.” Well, it isn’t. If you’ve got two young kids, you’re getting $2400 per year (pre-tax). No, it isn’t nearly enough to pay for full-time childcare, but it is a very sizable benefit. There’s a reason that the Liberals don’t dare to propose cancelling the allowance. By describing it as “a pittance,” Mallick appears to underestimate how much recipients value this benefit. It’s a lot of money to most families, and one needs to grasp that crucial point to understand the politics surrounding this issue.

Two loving parents who each haul home a paycheque is what your modern kid needs.

Ugh. Mallick starts her column being (rightly) indignant about suggestions that parents are doing something “wrong” by putting their kids in formal childcare arrangements outside the home. This is fine, but it takes a nasty turn here when she herself sounds harshly judgemental about families that include a stay-at-home parent, saying these families aren’t giving their children something that they “need.” But how on earth does Mallick propose to know what every “modern kid” needs, as though the same arrangements are best for every family? No parents  raise a generic “modern kid,” they raise little Suzy, Jimmy or Stan and they make decisions about whether or not to have a parent stay home based on what that specific kid needs – something they are much better positioned to determine than Heather Mallick or anybody else.

Neither overconfident opinion columnists nor politicians know what childcare arrangements are best for our particular families. Only we do. This is exactly why the government shouldn’t put its thumb on the scale and use enormous, universal subsidies to encourage parents to make one choice instead of another concerning how to arrange for their child’s supervision and care.