Celebrating the $100-a-month child benefit. Again. - Macleans.ca

Celebrating the $100-a-month child benefit. Again.

Diane Finley really wants us to mark the date.

by

When I received a government news release today reminding me to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Universal Child Care Benefit, I thought, as I donned my colourful paper hat, “Has it really been a year? Time flies. Why, it feels like only last month we marked five years of those $100-a-month federal payments to parents for every kid under age six.”

Wait a minute. Now that I check, it was only last month. I have removed the hat.

On July 1, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley issued a release stating that “today marked the fifth anniversary of the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB). The UCCB provides financial support to Canadian parents and demonstrates the Government of Canada’s commitment to helping parents balance work and family life.”

And today, Finley sent out another release, telling us that “today, the Government of Canada celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB). The UCCB provides financial support to Canadian parents and demonstrates the Government’s commitment to helping parents balance work and family life.”

By now, close readers of federal documents will have noted the key difference between the two statements. The first had to do with marking the fifth anniversary, while the second referred to celebrating said milestone. Significant difference there: the first was about the actual anniversary of the program, the second flagged a photo-op with Finley at an Ottawa park.

Not at all confused by the frequency with which the UCCB’s fifth birthday is announced, New Democrats took the opportunity to slag the $100-a-month allowance as no substitute for proper daycare funding. “In Ontario, the daily cost of infant child care is now a whopping $57 (Today’s Parent, April 2010),” said the NDP in response. “That means that with the help of the UCCB, parents can afford to work outside of the home only 1.75 days a month.”

It’s undeniable that $100 doesn’t buy much child care. But the NDP’s use of costly infant care as an example struck me. Researchers raise serious questions (some of which are touched on in my recent story about research into Quebec’s daycare system) about the wisdom of putting very young children in centre-based child care.

For kids under, say, two years old, a good case can be made that enhanced parental leave benefits—not government daycare subsidies—would be the better policy. That’s the norm in some European countries: support to help a parent stay home from work with very young children, good daycare for a year or two before kindergarten, then the school system kicks in.

This approach straddles the ideological divide by assigning a bigger role to parents without dismissing the need for high-quality daycare, too. Here’s how UBC’s Paul Kershaw described the striking of that balance: “When we talk about families with young kids, we pit some against the others in very ideological ways. It’s about conservatives saying we need kids spending more time at home with parents, especially the mom. The liberals say we need more child care services. The reality is they’re both right. Both ideas are absolutely critical right now.”