First, let’s make sure that we get some terminology right. War is not peace. Freedom is not slavery. Ignorance is not strength. And, regardless of what our new Conservative Ministry of Truth says, a taxable allowance of $100 a month for each child under six is not “a child care plan.”

Now, if Stephen Harper thinks that paying parents of children under six a whopping $3.28 a day (less tax) for their efforts is such a good idea, let him make the argument for that. But, he and his newly minted government should stop trying to pretend that it’s some kind of a grand plan for giving parents “choice in child care.” It’s simply a cheque (and a pretty paltry cheque at that).

Moreover, by unilaterally cancelling the five-year agreements that the federal government had signed with the provinces, the Conservatives are denying parents the ability to access the quality regulated child care that they want and need (something that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child lists as one of the fundamental rights all children should enjoy).

Public statements made by Harper and several of his ministers indicate that they really don’t have a clue about the value of quality child care. The Conservatives label licensed child-care providers as “institutions” and make ridiculous assertions like “We certainly don’t want the federal government to tell us how to raise our children.” and “The best people to raise children are the parents” (as if parents looking for child care were guilty of abandoning their children to the state).

The proposed payments to parents aren’t everything they seem. While it is well known that $1200 a year wouldn’t begin to cover the cost of child care, most parents won’t receive anything close to that amount. A study by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy shows a couple that together earn $36,000 a year “would end up with a net Child Care Allowance worth just $388 — only 32.3 per cent of the $1,200 face value payment.”

We shouldn’t let the Liberals off the hook for this pending disaster. If they had delivered, even partially, on a national child care program after promising it in 1993 (or 1997 or even 2000), the program would be so well established by now that it would be virtually impossible for a new government to pull the plug, no matter how ideologically hostile they were to the idea of government-funded child-care programs.

Instead, they waited until the dying days of their regime to put child-care money into the budget and to finally begin making agreements with the provinces. That made child care an inviting target for the dinosaurs in the Conservative Party. And, because the program was just being rolled out, voters didn’t have a real sense of what we’d be losing.

As well, the fact that two of the Liberals’ key campaign spokespeople (Scott Reid and John Duffy) were incapable of opening their mouths without inserting both feet discredited a legitimate argument about the futility of writing cheques that weren’t tied to the delivery of child care. As leading child-care advocate Monica Lysack argued during the campaign, “If we simply give the money to parents, we’re saying ‘Take the money, now it’s your problem.’ And I think that would be a really cowardly thing for the government to do.” The Liberals could have said that, but instead they turned a serious discussion into an argument about “beer and popcorn.”

Not surprisingly, provinces, child-care providers and parents are not pleased with the prospect of having the recently-signed child-care agreements torn up. They signed the deals in good faith and started ramping up their child development programs in good faith. A change in government shouldn’t negate the agreements. As Manitoba Premier Gary Doer argued last week, “Obviously we have an agreement with Canada, not with Paul Martin or Stephen Harper.”

But Harper and his government aren’t even interested in talking to the federal government’s partners. According to news reports, Mary Anne Chambers, Ontario’s Minister of Children’s Services tried to talk to Social Development Minister Diane Finley about the decision, but her call was never returned. Finley did assure Canadians that “our program does not prevent the provinces from going ahead with their own child-care programs.” And this was the government that was going to remedy “the fiscal imbalance”? Thanks for nothing.

In 1874, when Prime Minister Alexander MacKenzie came into power in the wake of the Pacific Scandal, he didn’t order the tracks of the partially built Canadian Pacific Railway to be torn up. Doing so would have been a complete breach of trust with the Canadian people and with the government of British Columbia, which had entered Confederation on the condition that the transcontinental railway would be completed.

While the building of the CPR was plagued with scandals and mismanagement, and strongly identified with the discredited government of John A. MacDonald, the newly elected government recognized that it was too important to the future of the country to play politics with it.

Equally, it would make no sense to tear apart a national child-care program just as it is finally being built.


Scott Piatkowski

Scott Piatkowski is a former columnist for He wrote a weekly column for 13 years that appeared in the Waterloo Chronicle, the Woolwich Observer and ECHO Weekly. He has also written for Straight...