Ignatieff ‘s bad idea [a national child-care system]

NationalPost.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published February 3, 2010

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff pledged that he would spend the days before Parliament resumes announcing Liberal policies and making clear where the party stands on the issues of the day. That much is welcome: It’s never too late to start laying down your policy platform, even if Mr. Ignatieff has waited a curiously long time since taking over the leadership a year ago.

On Monday, Mr. Ignatieff dropped a heavy plank, declaring that a national child-care system would be the No. 1 social item on the agenda of a Liberal government — though he doesn’t quite know how he’ll pay for it. “We will find the money, because it seems to me an excellent investment,” Ignatieff pledged. “I am not going to allow the deficit discussion to shut down discussion in this country about social justice.

“It’s also the best anti-poverty program. I want every single child in Canada to have the opportunity to get a square meal when they come to daycare; to get loving care and tender care,” Mr. Ignatieff added. “A lot of children in our country, we don’t like to admit it, start in a very turbulent difficult environment at home. The great thing about these programs is they give kids an equal start.”

Mr. Ignatieff is correct in one sense: Studies show that, on average, child care moderately improves the cognitive performance of children from low-income families –and the benefits last into adulthood. On the other hand, the same studies generally have shown no such lifelong benefits for children from middle-and high-income families.

Mr. Ignatieff hasn’t indicated whether he intends his program to cover every family in Canada, regardless of income. If the Liberal leader does intend the plan to be universal, then he’s peddling a bad idea: Most of the children who take part likely will not benefit in any statistically appreciable way, and the program will simply amount to a multi-billion dollar transfer payment from government to parents.

But putting aside the (as yet unknown) specifics of Mr. Ignatieff’s plan, there is the whiff of social engineering about the broader concept. When the government pays for child care, it puts its thumb on the decision-making scales for millions of families across Canada, encouraging two spouses to enter the workforce instead of one, and making single parenthood an economically more attractive lifestyle for prospective young mothers. This is not to say that single parenthood and two-income households are always bad things. But such important matters should, as much as possible, be the stuff of individual decision-making–not state policy.

Mr. Ignatieff appears to be headed in the same wrong-head direction as travelled by his predecessor, Stephane Dion, whose fixation with the grandiose Green Shift sealed his fate at the polls. Rather than deal with the issues Canadians say are at the top of their agenda, such as the economy and crime, he apparently wants to make a splash with a shiny new coast-to-coast program that steers our country in a more top-heavy, statist direction. That simply isn’t what Canadian families want, or need.

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