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The Liberals promise big spending on child care. The Conservatives, not so much

The Globe and Mail 14 September, 2021 - 02:10pm

Audio for this article is not available at this time.

This translation has been automatically generated and has not been verified for accuracy. Full Disclaimer

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left seated, and Quebec Premier Francois Legault, right, talk with a family prior to making a childcare funding announcement in Montreal, on Aug. 5, 2021.

Scott Moe is not a fan of Justin Trudeau. The Saskatchewan Premier has long been at odds with the federal Liberals. Yet in mid-August, two days before the election campaign began, Mr. Moe’s government signed on to Mr. Trudeau’s national child-care plan.

Why? Because money talks. The Liberal program – $30-billion over five years, outlined in the April budget – is far heftier than previous federal child-care proposals. The Liberals say they will cut fees in half by the end of next year in regulated spaces for children under 6, and get the cost down to $10 a day by 2026. They also say they will expand the number of regulated spaces in Canada by 250,000.

So Regina-Ottawa acrimony was set aside, and Mr. Moe said yes to $1.1-billion. The province says the money will pay for 28,000 new spaces in his province, from non-profit centres to home-based child care. Saskatchewan is one of seven provinces to sign on to the Liberal plan.

When the Liberals made child care the centrepiece of their pre-election budget, they billed it as “incontrovertible” that the program “pays for itself.” Their evidence was Quebec, whose heavily subsidized child-care system, introduced in 1997, appears to have increased the number of women in the province’s work force. Quebec’s female work-force participation rate in recent years has exceeded the Canadian rate by more than three percentage points.

This page found the economic evidence to be promising, though not incontrovertible. In a second look at the plan, this page argued that the long history of failures to reduce extravagant child-care costs in Canada showed that a greater role for Ottawa was necessary.

In this campaign, the Conservatives vow to kill the Liberal plan if elected. The Conservatives instead propose an outlay of less than a 10th of the Liberals’, in the form of a refundable tax credit worth $2.6-billion over five years.

Ottawa first brought in a such a tax break in 1971, after the Royal Commission on the Status of Women called for national child care. Tax-deductible child-care expenses were a modest first step; today, they cost Ottawa $1.5-billion a year and are claimed by 1.4 million people. The Conservative proposal would replace the existing tax credit and the $2.6-billion over five years would come on top of the current $1.5-billion cost – an average increase of a third. It would be paid out during the year, rather than recouped at tax time.

It’s not nothing. But while data from Quebec show a tax break can help spur new private-sector child-care spaces, the plan is unlikely to reduce child-care costs that average $50 and more a day in Canada, and which annually adds up to more than undergraduate university tuition.

Quebec is the model for the Liberal plan – but the Quebec model is not perfect. Only a minority of children score the best spots, and not all spaces are subsidized. One-third are in the main centres de la petite enhance system – high-quality care at $8.50 a day. They number 98,010 out of a total of 307,490. Another 45 per cent of spaces (139,390) are similarly subsidized, while one-quarter (70,080) are unsubsidized. The waiting list for subsidized spots is 51,000 children. (Quebec has signed a $6-billion child-care deal with Ottawa that is supposed to pay for 37,000 new low-cost spaces.)

What has changed in 2021 is the national debate. Fifteen years ago, when Paul Martin’s child-care plan died after Stephen Harper formed government, the replacement policy was a small direct payment to parents, to be used on anything. The current Conservative proposal is money for child care specifically, and the party has adopted the mantra of child-care-as-economic-boost. The Conservatives cite gains in productivity if more women work; their platform states, “Allowing women to reach true equality in the work force is impossible without child care.”

But the declaration isn’t matched by their proposed spending. A national system of low-cost child care is not cheap. After the first five years of the Liberal plan, there is a commitment to spend $9-billion-plus, annually. The money offered by the Conservatives is far less. Though would Erin O’Toole, if victorious on Sept. 20, kill the big-money deals with seven provinces after the first year, as he says he will?

What is abundantly clear is that child-care programs to date have failed in two basic ways: costs are too high, and there aren’t enough spaces. Tax breaks and grants haven’t worked; only Quebec’s system has made a difference. The Liberal plan will cost billions, but that’s the price of affordable child care.

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If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

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If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

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Opinion: Who will pay for the pandemic? Don't ask our politicians

The Globe and Mail 14 September, 2021 - 02:10pm

Audio for this article is not available at this time.

This translation has been automatically generated and has not been verified for accuracy. Full Disclaimer

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left seated, and Quebec Premier Francois Legault, right, talk with a family prior to making a childcare funding announcement in Montreal, on Aug. 5, 2021.

Scott Moe is not a fan of Justin Trudeau. The Saskatchewan Premier has long been at odds with the federal Liberals. Yet in mid-August, two days before the election campaign began, Mr. Moe’s government signed on to Mr. Trudeau’s national child-care plan.

Why? Because money talks. The Liberal program – $30-billion over five years, outlined in the April budget – is far heftier than previous federal child-care proposals. The Liberals say they will cut fees in half by the end of next year in regulated spaces for children under 6, and get the cost down to $10 a day by 2026. They also say they will expand the number of regulated spaces in Canada by 250,000.

So Regina-Ottawa acrimony was set aside, and Mr. Moe said yes to $1.1-billion. The province says the money will pay for 28,000 new spaces in his province, from non-profit centres to home-based child care. Saskatchewan is one of seven provinces to sign on to the Liberal plan.

When the Liberals made child care the centrepiece of their pre-election budget, they billed it as “incontrovertible” that the program “pays for itself.” Their evidence was Quebec, whose heavily subsidized child-care system, introduced in 1997, appears to have increased the number of women in the province’s work force. Quebec’s female work-force participation rate in recent years has exceeded the Canadian rate by more than three percentage points.

This page found the economic evidence to be promising, though not incontrovertible. In a second look at the plan, this page argued that the long history of failures to reduce extravagant child-care costs in Canada showed that a greater role for Ottawa was necessary.

In this campaign, the Conservatives vow to kill the Liberal plan if elected. The Conservatives instead propose an outlay of less than a 10th of the Liberals’, in the form of a refundable tax credit worth $2.6-billion over five years.

Ottawa first brought in a such a tax break in 1971, after the Royal Commission on the Status of Women called for national child care. Tax-deductible child-care expenses were a modest first step; today, they cost Ottawa $1.5-billion a year and are claimed by 1.4 million people. The Conservative proposal would replace the existing tax credit and the $2.6-billion over five years would come on top of the current $1.5-billion cost – an average increase of a third. It would be paid out during the year, rather than recouped at tax time.

It’s not nothing. But while data from Quebec show a tax break can help spur new private-sector child-care spaces, the plan is unlikely to reduce child-care costs that average $50 and more a day in Canada, and which annually adds up to more than undergraduate university tuition.

Quebec is the model for the Liberal plan – but the Quebec model is not perfect. Only a minority of children score the best spots, and not all spaces are subsidized. One-third are in the main centres de la petite enhance system – high-quality care at $8.50 a day. They number 98,010 out of a total of 307,490. Another 45 per cent of spaces (139,390) are similarly subsidized, while one-quarter (70,080) are unsubsidized. The waiting list for subsidized spots is 51,000 children. (Quebec has signed a $6-billion child-care deal with Ottawa that is supposed to pay for 37,000 new low-cost spaces.)

What has changed in 2021 is the national debate. Fifteen years ago, when Paul Martin’s child-care plan died after Stephen Harper formed government, the replacement policy was a small direct payment to parents, to be used on anything. The current Conservative proposal is money for child care specifically, and the party has adopted the mantra of child-care-as-economic-boost. The Conservatives cite gains in productivity if more women work; their platform states, “Allowing women to reach true equality in the work force is impossible without child care.”

But the declaration isn’t matched by their proposed spending. A national system of low-cost child care is not cheap. After the first five years of the Liberal plan, there is a commitment to spend $9-billion-plus, annually. The money offered by the Conservatives is far less. Though would Erin O’Toole, if victorious on Sept. 20, kill the big-money deals with seven provinces after the first year, as he says he will?

What is abundantly clear is that child-care programs to date have failed in two basic ways: costs are too high, and there aren’t enough spaces. Tax breaks and grants haven’t worked; only Quebec’s system has made a difference. The Liberal plan will cost billions, but that’s the price of affordable child care.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Read most recent letters to the editor.

© Copyright 2021 The Globe and Mail Inc. All rights reserved.

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