Daycare should not be a partisan issue

TheStar.com – parentcentral.ca
February 02, 2010.   Brandie Weikle

Why must child care be so divisive?

Michael Ignatieff announced yesterday that – no matter what the cost – a national childcare program would become reality under a government led by him.

Not surprisingly, partisan gloves immediately came off. On one side, Liberal supporters happy to hear the news. On the other, the expected conservative accusations that the initiative is too expensive, too ambitious and not supportive of the traditional family where one parent stays home to look after the children. “You had ‘em, YOU look after ‘em,” is the basic message.

What I think gets lost here is the notion that children themselves are citizens. There are always the predictable daycare naysayers who speak of kids as though they are a luxury consumer product. “If you cannot afford children, don’t have them. Don’t expect me to pay for your bad family planning,” espoused one such commenter on Susan Delacourt’s story.

While there’s a cogent argument to be made that there’s a worldwide population crisis (though my own take is that we have a more urgent over-consumption crisis in the developed world), Canada does not have that sort of population problem. In fact, we are not replacing ourselves fast enough, not even when immigration is factored in. The boomers and seniors complaining that a universal child-care program is “20 years too late,” and that the money would be better spent on the medical and old-age security costs associated with an aging population, are incredibly myopic.

The children in daycare now are the very ones whose income taxes will support the “Me Generation” when they are elderly.

Here’s what I’d like the ask the commenters who use the phrases “my money,” “my paycheque” and “my taxes” as if there had been a going-out-of-business sale at the Fraser Institute: Just because you’re done with raising kids (or didn’t have them), do you think people aren’t going to continue to have babies? Are we simply going to wind civilization down here to coincide with your slow, pharmacologically-enhanced demise?

No, not everyone who has children can afford them. Teen pregnancy may be down thanks to public health campaigns and better access to birth control, but there are plenty of other ways to wind up with both kids and a small bank account. Fleeing a place of less fortunate birth, for instance (should kids from Haiti not be entitled to a licensed daycare spot?). Becoming the victim of spousal abuse, or simply being left by the other parent to fend on one income. Not having a higher education and a chance at a professional salary. Getting pregnant in the middle of a higher education and not being willing – because of religious conviction or other deeply-held personal beliefs – to consider termination as an option. Becoming ill or disabled.

None of these circumstances (or, I’d argue, any decision made by any parent) removes the right of a child to quality care in the critical preschool years. If you’re not clear on the connection between good early years and successful adult outcomes, read the Pascal Report for starters. And while you’re at it, ask an average middle class family in Quebec about the difference $7-a-day daycare has made in terms of the stress – even on double-income, professional couples – of providing for a family.

To put it in terms that tunnel-finished, free-marketeers can understand, there is a demand for childcare spaces that far outstrips supply. Witness: two-year wait lists for licensed daycare spots and longer wait-lists yet for coveted after-school programs.

So keep in mind that while you’re busy spewing your disapproval of federally-funded childcare into commenting fields on articles, there are low-income parents dropping their children off at unlicensed basement daycares where they will sit in front of the television with no one to sing to them, read to them, or engage them in a little finger painting.

And furthermore, access to good quality childcare does nothing to threaten the right of families to choose to have one parent look after the children at home. A daycare space does not remove a stay-at-home mom space.

A national daycare program is a good idea. And it’s a good idea no matter who thought of it, and no matter what political party manages to make it happen.

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