Liberals promise child-care revival

TheStar.com – news/Canada
Posted: Jan. 3,2011.   Susan Delacourt, Ottawa Bureau

Federal Liberals are vowing to revive the national child-care program that Prime Minister Stephen Harper scrapped exactly five years ago this week.

But Ken Dryden, the former Liberal cabinet minister who put the defunct child-care system in place, said that any new version will be more modest than the old one—at least initially.

“It is our intention to proceed as we did before in terms of the creation of a national, early-learning and child-care program,” Dryden told a news conference. “We have to be respectful of the existing circumstances. The state of the economy is not what it was five years ago, or seven years ago when we started in on this.”

Liberals aren’t ready to release details on the cost or scope of their scaled-back plans for national child-care. Harper scrapped the system that cost $5-billion over five years, choosing instead to send parents a $100 monthly cheque that they may spend as they see fit.

“Canadian parents voted for choice, not more bureaucracy,” Ryan Sparrow, a spokesman for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, said on Twitter on Thursday in reply to the Liberals’ news conference.

Dryden said that the $100 payments don’t even come close to meeting the child-care costs of the average Canadian family, which he put at roughly $8,000 a year.

Canadians may well have to wait until a federal election, though, to see exactly what the Liberals are promising in terms of reviving national child care. Though the party has unveiled a $1-billion program to help families caring for sick and elderly relatives – the so-called Family Care proposal – all the Liberals’ promises in the realm of education are being held back for announcement during a campaign.

There’s been some speculation that the Liberals have shifted their policy emphasis away from child care and toward care of the sick and elderly because of voting demographics. Put simply, the people who need child care are less likely to vote than the seniors or aging Baby Boomers who would take advantage of the Liberals’ family-care plan – and maybe even shift their vote because of it.

Dryden rejected that suggestion on Thursday, noting that Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has repeatedly stressed the importance of child care as a policy priority for the party. “This is not an either-or (proposition),” Dryden said. “Both are immense needs. Both are needs that are not being met by the present government and both would be large priorities in terms of a Liberal government.”

The Liberals were talking about child care on Thursday in the largest context of women’s issues all together – arguing that after five years of Conservative government, women are faring worse than they were when Liberals were in power.

They cited international rankings, such as the World Economic Forum’s gender-gap index, which showed Canada plummeting from seventh place in 2004 to 25th place in 2009. As well, the Liberals slammed the Conservatives for backward slides in pay-equity, appointments for women and financing for women’s advocacy organizations.

“One thing is perfectly clear,” said Anita Neville, the Liberals’ critic for the status of women. “Canadian women are worse off after five years of Stephen Harper.”

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