What role should the federal government have in child care?
There is a constant debate between putting in place a structure of affordable daycare versus providing funds directly to parents (read: baby bonus, family allowance, etc).
Stephen Harper's conservative government has opted for the latter.
The Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) will send monthly cheques to all Canadian families for each child under the age 18.
For any family who had registered for the program prior to May 15th 2015, the first cheques will arrive in July; those families who register after that date will have an appropriate delay in receiving their payments.
The first cheques will include payments retroactive to January 1st 2015.
For each child ages newborn to 6-years-old, the monthly allowance will be $160.00. For 6-to-17-year-olds, the monthly payment will be $60.00.
As of today (May 17th, 2015), the federal government claims 200,000 eligible families are still not registered to receive the payment.
If you have not yet applied for the benefit (and have one or more children under 18-years-of-age) you can register online at www.canada.ca/taxsavings.
The program is not without its critics.
One of those criticisms is that, since the plan—and the amount of the payouts—is universal regardless of a family's income, a family earning millions will receive the same contributions as one earning in the five-figure range.
On Friday, I spoke with Pierre Poilievre, Minister of Employment and Social Development and asked him about millionaires receiving equal benefits as a family struggling to make ends meet:
The Universal Child Care Benefit helps 100% of families with kids. It gives them almost $2,000.00 a year for kids under 6 and $720.00 for kids 6 through 17. Now, the point is, it’s universal. Everyone gets it. Regardless of what you make, or the child care you choose, you get the money. The Liberals and the NDP would take away the Child Care Benefit, and even after they do that, they have billions of dollars in shortfall in their own plans. So the message is, with our approach, people know what they get and they can count on it, regardless of their income or the choices they make in child care.
As far as the cost of the program to the federal government (about $1.1 billion in 2014-15 and $4.4 billion in 2015-16), Minister Poilievre says the money will come directly from the general revenues of the Government of Canada. These funds, he says, are available thanks to the Prime Minister's balanced budget.
I also asked him specifically to comment on a common point of view held by residents of Quebec—my home province. In Quebec, we have a "Universal Daycare" program. The daily cost of the program to parents is anywhere from $7.30 per child for a family earning $100,000 or less, up to a maximum rate of $20.00 per child if the family income is greater than $150,000.
This new sliding scale, instituted by our provincial government, has been scorned by many middle-income earners. However, the real challenge of the program was—and still is—a lack of space and a waiting list which can be as long as two years or more.
I asked Minister Poilievre about the decision to use government funds in the form of cheques sent directly to parents versus using that money to create more daycare spaces:
If we put all the money into government run license daycare spaces, that would exclude about 90% of families. If you have a stay-at-home parent, you get nothing; if you have a grandparent who takes care of the kids, you get nothing; if you have a neighborhood family, you get nothing; if you rely on a private daycare, you get nothing. So the approach of putting all the money into government run license daycare would exclude at least 90% of families. The other thing I would point out is, the Liberal Party promised for 13 years that they would create such a program nationally; they spent billions on it and it didn’t create a single daycare space. All the money was vaporized by bureaucracy, researchers and lobbyists. None of it actually delivered daycare spaces. Even if people want a licensed daycare, the chances that the Government will produce it by the time their kids are still young enough to benefit are next to none. The simplest, easiest way is to put the money in the mail and send it to the parent.
One motivation for our provincial government to provide relatively inexpensive daycare is that it encourages both parents to return to the workforce, thereby generating more taxable income. When asked whether the UCCB will instead encourage one parent to stay home with their child to the potential detriment of government coffers, he said:
Any politician that wants to make child care policy that can maximize how much money the government can take out of people’s pockets deserves to be defeated. I think we should let parents make child care choices in the interests of their children, not in the interest of the taxman.
Minister Poilievre insisted the timing of this program's rollout was not done intentionally to coincide with Canada's federal election in October, but rather he insists this was only now possible due to the balanced budget.
When asked whether the program was contingent on the Conservatives being re-elected:
Yes. The Liberals have said they would take away the UCCB. They would cancel it and spend it on a child care bureaucracy, so the only way that these child care payments would continue is with a re-elected Conservative majority.
Note: The Liberal Party, as well as the NDP, were contacted and given an opportunity to react to these statements. Comments from both parties should be forthcoming and will be published in this space.