Yum! Crow!

Okay, remember when I joked that the election ads were going to be concentrated on CBC and CTV and that we’d never see a political ad during Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel?

Well, maybe somebody was reading. Either way, at 8:08 p.m. last night, during the Shop Till You Drop episode of Mythbusters, Stephen Harper was being “grilled” about his education plan.

Although still rather wooden, it was a better, more substantive ad than the previous one on ethics. You get the impression that Harper’s a little more excited about skilled trades than he is about fixing the government system.

But then, fixing such a system would be rather a chore, wouldn’t it? In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be broken in the first place, and you only ever know if you’ve fixed things if nobody complains anymore. Improving our education system? That’s a legacy that lasts several lifetimes.

On Demonization

Let’s make one thing clear: during the last election, the Liberal Party never demonized Alberta. Instead, they criticized Ralph Klein and his push for more private involvement in health care. That’s different. It’s an attack on policy coalescing around a fairly easy target of a politician.

There was no Liberal equivalent to Stephen Harper’s depressing invocation of the country’s supposed hatred of Toronto in his dismissal of the NDP as an “elitist” party led by an “out-of-touch Torontonian”. Westerner Nunc Scio has a good rant on Harper’s comments.

All that being said, there is no equivalent to Scott Reid’s super-boneheaded comments suggesting that new parents would be more likely to spend the Conservatives’ proposed child care benefit on “popcorn and beer”. Not only was it insulting, it was insulting nationwide, and it once again underpinned the Liberals’ reputation of arrogance — that they know how to spend our money better than we do. As RevMod notes, this merits a stunning six points on his Gaffe-o-Meter, given the stupidity of the comments, and the prominence of the person who made them.

Actually, I do recall an equivalent to Scott Reid’s comments. Didn’t one of the parties back in 1993 dismiss welfare recipients as likely to waste their money on “pizza and beer”? Which one was it, and what happened to them on election day?

If it was an ignobel defeat, it’s no less than what the current brand of Liberals deserve.

On Daycare

Regarding the competing day care plans from the Liberals, the Conservatives and now the NDP, there has been a lot of heated rhetoric bandied about, which is a shame. The Conservatives argue that the Liberal and NDP plans amount to taking the kids out of the hands of their parents for six years, and that’s not true. The Liberals say that the Conservatives are handing out money to beer and popcorn manufacturers and that’s most definitely untrue. The NDP are saying that the Conservatives’ plan amounts to a baby bonus rather than a real child care policy and that’s… well, actually, that’s fair comment.

But what drives this rhetoric, I think, is the fact that all sides are talking past each other. Each is trying to solve a different problem, and as a result, the debate has been less then productive.

First of all, any plan to use government money to build government regulated childcare spaces does not represent a lack of confidence in the abilities of the parents. Parents will continue to have the choice to raise their children on their own, either with the help of relatives or by staying at home. The Liberal and NDP plans don’t shut down a single privately-run childcare space. They simply seek to open new spaces to give to parents who are currently sitting on the eighteen-month-long waiting lists or who can’t afford a space at all.

The Liberal and NDP plans seek to address a specific problem. A young couple with a new child living in large metropolitan areas such as Toronto, Calgary or Montreal (or even Kitchener-Waterloo) oftentimes find themselves amongst such a dearth of open childcare spaces that the most affordable spots they can find for themselves costs them more (especially when you factor in transportation) than one parent earns on a salary. This creates a not uncommon situation where one parent is forced to forego his or her career to care for the child at home.

This is not to denigrate those parents who have taken the initiative to keep one parent at home to look after the kid. All the studies that are out there note that a child raised by a stay-at-home parent benefits. But for those parents who are forced to keep one at home due to economics as opposed to choice, live in deeper poverty, which is of no benefit to the child. And that’s what the Liberal and NDP plans seek to deal with.

Is it fair that stay-at-home parents and childless couples should pay for the daycare of the working poor? Of course not — if you examine only who receives the money rather than who receives the benefit. You can just as easily argue that healthy individuals shouldn’t be on the hook for the health care costs of sick people, or people out of school shouldn’t be paying for the children going through school, except that doing the former will result in much suffering and death, and doing the latter will rob the economy of a highly educated workforce and much prosperity.

Parents who want to return to work but who cannot because childcare is too expensive remove their productivity from the economy. They cut short their careers, reducing their economic clout into the future, and they are more likely to rely on other government assistance. It has been said that a decent and affordable daycare system is one of the most effective ways to reduce a province’s welfare rolls. A national daycare system would likely pay for itself — maybe not in taxes, but certainly in terms of the additional economic output of this country.

Yes, the Liberal and NDP plans focus on a subset of childcare. They ignore parents who work outside of 9 to 5, or who choose to rely on relatives for childcare, or who choose to stay at home, but they are aiming their efforts at the portion of the issue likely to have the most positive impact on the economy. The Conservative plan doesn’t address this, because its interest is in recognizing the work of stay-at-home parents and in doling out this money in a manner that’s equal to all families. Indeed, their child care benefit is structured in such a way that it rewards stay-at-home parents and penalizes two-income families, which may be a valid social policy, but one that arguably doesn’t benefit the economy as much as the Liberal and NDP plans.

But do we need this program at all? Again, I return to my skepticism. This nation has many challenges requiring its attention, and a limited number of resources with which to tackle them. New parents have faced the struggle of raising children in this nation for decades, and while assistance is certainly appreciated, it’s not a life and death struggle like universal healthcare, and it doesn’t provide the economic bang of universal education. If the money is to be spent at all, it’s better spent elsewhere.

A Parenthood Moment

Vivian will be six weeks old this Wednesday. She’s old enough to spend some “tummy time”, wherein we leave her on her stomach on a blanket and allow her to exercise with some pushups (which she does — actually, she raises her head). She’s responsive enough that she enjoys having her feet played with. So Erin and she reenact Godzilla stomping Tokyo.

Whoever thought something as simple as this could be so entertaining?

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