Election 2015: Childcare divisive issue among hopefuls

Five parties offer five very different looks at childcare

Martin Barker says the Conservatives believe in supporting families and giving families choices.

“This is an election to carefully consider the issues and childcare is one such important issue to consider,” he said. “Conservatives believe strong, healthy families create a strong country and ultimately leads to fewer social issues and less addiction and crime. The Conservatives believe families should have choices about their childcare and that the government doesn’t need yet another layer of bureaucracy.”

Barker said the Conservatives have already put more money into the pockets of parents with the introduction of an increased tax deduction for children in sports, with the Universal Child Care Benefit ($160 per month for children under six, $60 per month for children six-17) and by raising the tax deductions for childcare, for children under six, over six, and for disabled children by an additional $1,000 per year.

“Income splitting will benefit families with a stay-at-home parent the most,” he said. “Income splitting is limited to a maximum benefit of $2,000 per family. The same party that has proposed the bureaucratic daycare system has stated that they will repeal income splitting if elected.”

Barker said the NDP “will not provide choices” for families.

He said the National Housing survey in 2011 showed that of those who use childcare service only 40 per cent used institutional daycare.

“A bureaucratic national daycare system as proposed by one of the other parties would pigeon-hole parents into 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daycare that will not help those with irregular jobs, stay at home parents or those who choose to use family members and neighbours as their childcare providers,” he said.

“Our opponent’s proposed unionized national daycare plan, that is dependent upon the provinces sharing 40 per cent of the cost, will take eight years before being fully implemented and will put parents at the mercy of striking unions, competing for limited daycare spaces, and will raise taxes on every Canadian,” he said. “The Conservative plan benefits all Canadians.”

Marxist-Leninist candidate Alastair Haythornthwaite also believes in a plan that would benefit all Canadians.

“Childcare is one of the many needs of young Canadian families. Young families need access to education, meaningful employment, student debt relief, affordable housing and comprehensive healthcare with dental and drug coverage,” he said. “If both parents work, childcare is an expensive burden, significantly reducing the money the second parent brings to the family.”

He said $800 a month is an average cost for a pre-school child.

“It costs even more for an infant,” Haythornthwaite said.

“Plans have been proposed, during this election, to introduce a government subsidy to reduce childcare costs to $15 a day,” he said.

“The devil is in the details. Will a $15 per day childcare involve subsidizing for-profit daycare providers? The only rational course is for the state to provide childcare services directly to capture economies of scale. An extension of public education to include daycare will create free daycare and allow the maintenance of a high standard of care throughout the system. The classrooms for daycare are available today, as every school board closes facilities under the pressure of austerity.”

Haythornthwaite said the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada looks to cure fundamental inequities in society rather than merely treat the symptoms.

“By giving working people the power and resources to make the decisions and policies that affect their lives, the important questions about the welfare of young families can be addressed.”

NDP candidate Alistair MacGregor said with twin three-year-old daughters and both he and his wife needing to work to make ends meet, childcare issues are something he’s “very personally aware of.”

“Childcare is one of the highest costs for a family budget. It’s time we brought those costs down,” he said.

The NDP plan would see parents pay no more than $15 per day per child for care. His party has been criticized for noting the program would take about eight years to roll out.

“I think for any big new social program there’s always going to be a bit of time to roll it out but I’ve been hearing from families all over the place that this is something they would like to have and I think that it really is time for action,” he said.

MacGregor added it makes good sense both socially and economically, noting the work-life conflict experienced by families with small children costs the Canadian business community about $4 billion a year.

“It’s been estimated that for every dollar that we invest in childcare, our economy grows by $2,” he said. “The childcare program could generate an additional $3 billion for the federal government though additional revenues as well because you’re allowing more parents to enter the workforce.”

MacGregor said almost 900,000 kids across Canada don’t have access to affordable childcare.

“The Conservatives like to say they’re giving families choice though their child benefit. That actually is not a choice. I think that if people have the choice of having affordable childcare there when they need it and if they want to use it, that’s going to be a great benefit.”

MacGregor said the party would keep the Universal Child Care Benefit in place, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and get rid of income splitting because it only really benefits the upper class.

Candidate Luke Krayenhoff, who between himself and his wife has five children, said the Liberal Party of Canada is targeting economic security for the middle class through its childcare policies.

“We felt the middle class really has not moved forward,” he said, noting that incomes have not kept pace with inflation in recent years yet many staples continue to get more expensive.

“I just know that when our kids were really young, it was a real grind financially. You had to watch your pennies and that part of life,” he said. “But if we can make that easier…I think it has to become the new normal with employers and employees working together.”

Among the Liberal policies affecting childcare are changes to EI parental benefits that would make it easier for employers to be more flexible on work hours and work location for employees with young children, Krayenhoff said.

“The reality is both parents have to work these days. This would give the family the option of [either] having one parent stay at home and putting the child into childcare. It leaves the decision with the family.”

Many people are having children later in life or having fewer kids, because they feel it’s an economic penalty to do so, he said.

On top of that direct benefit to families, he said, the Liberals’ national early learning and childcare framework would see the government work with the provinces to provide a good start for children, using evidence-based research and best practices.

Green Party candidate Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi knows there are a lot of young families on the West Shore of Greater Victoria, the most densely populated part of the riding. As such, she said, childcare is a priority.

“As far as the Green Party is concerned, we really do want to restore the 2005 agreement which focused on achieving a universal national access child care program in Canada,” she said. “We also want to ensure that there is a children’s commissioner that would ensure children’s best interests are considered in future policy and coordinate services across the country.”

Somewhat like the Liberals, the Greens’ policy on expanding quality childcare spaces includes offering direct tax credits for employers to allow for more flexibility for workers requiring child care.

“We’re very much about families being able to be together,” Hunt-Jinnouchi said. “For example, the more workplace childcare spaces we can create, the more mothers and fathers can be easily accessible to their children [in the event of] emergencies.”

She raised her eyebrows over the NDP’s $15 a day child care, questioning the long-term affordability of such a program. She sees that as requiring a lot of buy-in and financial support from the provinces who administer such services, noting that it realistically couldn’t be put in place for five, eight or even 10 years down the road.

“I believe with our plan we would be able to see some immediate results,” she said.

—With files from Don Descoteau, Goldstream Gazette