Ignatieff’s serious plan for home care

TheGlobeandMail.com – Opinions/Editorials
Published Monday, Oct. 11, 2010

Canadians lack the time and support to give their ailing loved ones the care they need. So a serious home-care plan, like the one that the federal Liberals presented last week, is welcome. The plan to give cash benefits to Canadians with sick family members is imperfect and raises questions of cost, but it could create real social benefits, and it makes for smart politics.

A wave of new dementia cases and an aging population will make it harder for Canadians to provide for elderly relatives. The money Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is promising – up to $1,350 a year in tax benefits; 4½ additional months of Employment Insurance benefits – can only relieve, not eliminate, the burden of care. But it should demonstrably improve quality of life for family caregivers.

The move may not be the most efficient, from an economic point of view. Caregivers will still need to tap into the health-care system for supports, and most provinces have yet to make the changes necessary to allow for meaningful, long-term care in the home for all those sick people who need and request it. And there is still a role for the private sector, by, for instance, creating opportunities for leave-taking by employees. Indeed, in the absence of larger EI reforms, the $1-billion plan could be tweaked to dedicate a greater share – now standing at just 25 per cent – to enlarged EI benefits.

The political calculation here is hard to miss. On the broad outlines of both fiscal and health-care policy, there is less difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives than either party would like voters to believe. The Liberals’ promise to cancel a planned cut in the corporate tax rate from 18 per cent to 15 per cent, and reallocate the money to caregivers marks a clear point of distinction. It is also a smart appeal to a large and growing array of families of different income levels and political persuasions.

That said, the Liberals only get to make such a signature commitment once; they cannot recycle their promise to cancel the tax cuts as a way to pay for other new social programs they may like to promise. And they will need to counter the argument that cancelling the tax cuts could compromise economic growth.

Canada needs more and better home care. How to pay for it economically, and without crippling the public finances, will be a challenge, for all governments and political parties. At least Mr. Ignatieff has had the courage to raise the subject.

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PDF DOCUMENT

Liberal Party family-care plan, released Oct. 5, 2010

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