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Federal child-care plan prompts Kenney to call up conservatism's culture warriors

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday afternoon's COVID-19 update. Image credit: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/Flickr

If cornered, will the Kenney government flat out say no to federal funds for child care?

It sure looks like it.

But first, as is ever the case when the United Conservative Party's lizard brain confronts a potentially popular publicly funded program, Premier Jason Kenney will rush with his loyal partisans to their favourite barricade: culture war.

UCP culture warriors were quick to respond when they learned the Trudeau government's federal budget Monday included a plan to spend $30 billion over the next five years on a national child-care program.

A sage observer of the recent history of Liberal governments in Ottawa might wonder if, like electoral reform, the child-care program will never see the light of day once Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government is snugly re-elected in the nation's capital.

Still, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland promised Monday that her goal was to see parents with kids in child care paying only $10 a day within five years, and them's fightin' words from the perspective of Kenney and the UCP. They've just finished killing off the previous Alberta NDP government's $25-a-day child-care program, after all. So there's no way they're about to take the chance this might only be another meaningless Liberal promise!

UCP talking heads have been all over the place feigning sympathy with parents who face extortionate child-care fees but decrying publicly funded child care with a battery of culture-war dog whistles.

"When it comes to child-care subsidies, we believe that any program should respect the choices that parents make for what's best for their own families," said Premier Kenney, responding to a reporter's question at yesterday's daily COVID-19 briefing.

"Our first read of the federal policy announced yesterday is that it is only for a kind of cookie-cutter, nine-to-five, urban, government- and union-run institutional daycare option," he continued, throwing in enough whistles to make your pup's ears ring.

There's hardly a word in the second half of that run-on sentence that doesn't summon up one of the Great Satans of Kenney's brand of 1950s-style social conservatism. Governments! City folks! Regular day jobs! Unions! Institutions! And, of course, daycare, a word loaded in conservative circles with threatening implications of women with education, careers, options and potential, in addition to children.

The base will hear the message, even if some of the premier's various targets don't.

Kenney also complained the proposed federal program doesn't have anything for for-profit child-care outfits.

Alberta's premier does ramble on, so I'm not about to catalogue his entire windy answer. Let's leave that to Postmedia, shall we? But if you're a glutton for punishment or determined to hear his remarks in full context, including the long list of people he wants to think they will be left out of Ottawa's proposal, they begin at about the 27.50 mark in the YouTube video of the daily COVID briefing.

The government's talking points seem to have been widely distributed.

"We're not really interested in a one-size-fits-all institutionalized program across the country," parroted Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz to a CBC reporter yesterday. "Children and families have diverse needs and any program has to acknowledge that."

"The budget appears to lack the flexibility that parents need and provincial governments require," said Finance Minister Travis Toews in his reaction late Monday to the federal budget. "Any child-care agreement between Alberta and Ottawa must respect the diverse needs of children and the fundamental principle of parental choice in child-care options."

"Only one in seven Alberta parents choose institutional daycare for their kids," grumped Brock Harrison, the premier's executive director of communications and planning. "Any child-care deal with Ottawa needs to make it more affordable for the other six."

Never mind that more parents would choose better-quality child care if they could afford it, and if it were available.

What the Kenney government is actually not interested in is affordable, accessible child care oriented to the needs of children and parents, instead of profit, privatization, and market ideology.

So will Kenney just say no? Here he is again at yesterday afternoon's COVID news conference:

"I'll tell you what. If it's a take-it-or-leave-it, Ottawa-style, cookie-cutter program, I don't think that satisfies the demands or expectations of Albertans."

This has little to do with the demands and expectations of Albertans, of course. It has to do with the ideology of the Kenney government. And it means, we won't take it.

Consider the Kenney culture war on publicly funded child care to have been declared.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image credit: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/Flickr

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