James in the Middle

… of the Daycare Debate…

Before I go on with this post, there is one thing I wanted to say during last Sunday’s podcast that I didn’t get a chance to. When Jason Cherniak talked about the Liberal’s King Edward Accord event and the apparent patching up of differences between the various players in the civil war, i wanted to say that this was a good thing. It’s a good thing for the Liberals (of course), it’s good for all Canadians, and it’s good for the Conservative government as well.

Why? Well a government is not well served if it governs only because its opposition is in disarray. Canadians don’t benefit when a government is allowed to rest on its laurels, and certainly a government looking to leave a real legacy to its electorate doesn’t benefit when there’s no opposition preventing it from going soft and lazy.

So, go to it Liberals: do your job as her majesty’s loyal opposition.

And on with the post…

Checking out this past Sunday’s Bloggers Hotstove on the daycare debate, I think it’s odd that I spent most of my time arguing with Greg Staples over the merits of the Liberal and NDP proposals to open up more subsidized daycare spaces. Why? Because, if you recall, I came into this debate saying that we didn’t need a national daycare system (the Liberals had been promising this for twelve years without delivering on it, and there were other issues that needed attention). I even said that the Conservative plan to provide a $1200 per year baby bonus had merits in equal application of resources and flexibility of use. And yet I find myself arguing with Conservatives who attack the Liberal and NDP proposals.

It’s usually because, rather than defend their own government’s plan on its own merits, Conservative supporters attack Liberal and NDP proposals instead. I guess you could say that this is an example of a good defense being a strong offense, but it suggests that the Conservatives sense that the merits of their own proposals don’t stand up to the merits of the Liberal and NDP proposals, so they go after the Liberal and NDP flaws. And when they do that, a number of these critics go too far.

MarkC, commenting over on Sinister Thoughts doesn’t go too far. He and I had a respectful debate on the issue of national daycare (and, remember, I’m not actually a supporter of the Liberal and NDP proposals), but his reasoning illustrates the argument I have a lot of trouble with: that the Liberal and NDP proposals disparage the ability of parents to raise their own children, and that parents will be “induced” to give their kids up to the government. Here’s a sample:

I said:

Even though I don’t believe that we need either daycare policy, I too am surprised at how heated the debate is. To some Conservative supporters, it sounds like national daycare is a plot to take their children away from them and have them raised by the government. Who exactly is forcing you to put your kids in daycare if you choose (and have the resources) to stay at home?

The Liberals and the NDP seek to solve a specific problem: that there are parents out there who are struggling, but for whom daycare is so expensive that it swallows any second income they can bring in. The $1200 per year Conservative plan has the advantage of being flexible and equal, but it treats this specific problem as if it doesn’t exist.


Taxes are unlikely to go up under a daycare plan, if the surplus is as high as people are predicting. But investment that opens up daycare spaces will pay for itself in terms of economic growth. Even if the stay-at-home family doesn’t see their $1200 per year, they will benefit, as other families will see their productivity increase and their dependence on social assistance decrease relative to that.

MarkC replies:

James, this “nobody is forced to put their kids in care” argument is totally bogus. When the government says, “we’ll give you $10,000 a year, taken from tax money which you partly pay, if you just do what we want”, that’s pretty close to coercion. Parents worry about their children’s future - food, clothing, tertiary educations, many things - and to turn down a huge chunk of money, just because in your judgment (clearly not shared by “expert opinion”) it is not better for your child, is very difficult. The Liberal/NDP plans put a great deal of pressure on parents to put their kids in care, and to pretend otherwise is simply disingenuous.

I reply:

No, it’s not disingenuous. Where’s the coercion? There are benefits to staying at home with your children, and if you can afford to do so, you will continue to do so. The Liberals and the NDP are seeking only to open up more daycare spaces that, thus far, private industry has not been able to provide. Taxes are unlikely to go up, since the Liberals were using the surplus to fund this.

The whole “taxes coerce families” argument doesn’t work for me either, since to reduce our taxes enough to make a noticable impact in our incomes requires eviscerating a number of other programs in addition to daycare, making the lot of the working family harder, not easier.

I’m a stay-at-home Dad and I will continue to be, even with the presence of subsidized daycare spaces. I simply do not follow your logic to suggest that you will end up using government daycare spots simply because the government provides them.

Mark replies:

On the coercion issue, it is clear that parents are not being coerced to put their kids into daycare. However, when parents are struggling to make ends meet and provide for their kids the best they can, if the government dangles a massive carrot in front of them, should they only see the light and commit their kids to institutional daycare, many parents do see it as strong and inappropriate pressure. The government is effectively asking “Is it right to deprive your family of all this money, simply to stay home with your kids? Well, it is your choice to do so if you can afford it, but really, shouldn’t you be thinking about tertiary education and other expenses, rather than your own selfish desire to goof off for a few years?” You and Greg say you have trouble understanding why people get so upset about this issue - I am trying to explain why….

I finish with:

Not everybody who can use social assistance decides to take it, and just because taxes are taken for social services, doesn’t mean that there is a pressure to make use of those services. I pay education taxes, but I’ll spend most of my life not using the education system. I pay taxes to support hospitals, but until Vivian was born, I believe I contributed far more in taxes than I took out of the system by requiring treatment. But I continue to pay taxes because there is a social benefit in ensuring that others receive an education, and there is a definite personal benefit to knowing that a service is available in case I need it, even if I never do.

A case in point: I am a stay-at-home father, and money is tight at the moment. I don’t dispute the fact that the Conservative’s $100/month would come in useful. But if the government came forward and dangled a daycare space in front of my door, I wouldn’t take it.

I do not understand the argument that the Liberal and NDP proposals intend to force new parents to put their children into the daycare system, even if they don’t want to. And then there are the one or two supporters go even further, likening these daycare spots to Liberal indoctrination centres, and that’s when we get into tinfoil hat territory.

All told, coming into this argument thinking that a national daycare program may not be needed, and discovering the arguments of some of the people I’m agreeing with, has almost led me to rethink my position, and come out in support of the Liberal and NDP daycare program proposals.

On the other side, Erin thinks my stance is wrong. When I acknowledge the flexibility of the Conservative baby bonus plan, and downplay the benefits of a national daycare system, she thinks I’m selling the policy short, that there is a need for widely subsidized daycare, and Canadian (and American) society would be greatly improved if the governments invested now to make this a reality.

She agrees with the oft-cited argument that there are too many poor families out there for whom daycare expenses negate the benefit of a second income. Their choice to stay home makes sense for them, but removes a worker from the economy and condemns the family to poverty and dependence on government services.

But even though that’s the argument that she agrees with, it’s not the argument she makes. She says the lack of a national daycare system is a national handicap that will live with us for generations, and it is in the interest of all Canadians to make daycare as readily available as kindergarten spaces. Why should childless Canadians pay for the daycare expenses of new parents? Why should new parents who keep their children at home pay for the childcare expenses of other new parents?

“Well, let’s transplant this to education,” she says while I sit at the dining room table after the Bloggers Hotstove podcast finishes. “Why should we have universal education?”

“Because we all benefit when our children receive a good education,” I reply.

“What if I say that I have the ability to educate my children better?” she asks.

“That is your choice, and you should be allowed to educate your children as you see fit,” I reply. I have nothing against home schooling, and there is no doubt that many home-schooled children are receiving an education at least as good as what the education system provides. And that’s good for me and whoever hires these children.

“So, why should I pay for an education system that I don’t use?”

“Because you still benefit when your neighbour’s children are educated,” I reply.

“That’s right,” she says. “Don’t just think about the added productivity of the parents, think of the benefit to the children. We know that ages zero to three is the period where children do most of their learning. Vivian is doing well, but we’re investing a lot of time and attention on her by staying at home, which we can afford to do. We live in a neighbourhood where Vivian will play with other children. We have the resources, but what about other parents? What if they can’t afford to have a parent stay home? What if their children don’t live near other children? What if their kids’ learning patterns are different?

“As it is now,” she says, “families who can’t have a parent stay home have to hunt and scrounge and lash together an ad hoc system for caring for their kids during working hours. Sometimes it’s good. Lots of times, it’s not. Always, it’s hard. If these parents had access to regulated, quality, affordable day care, their children would benefit. Their children would be better educated, better able to learn, and better able to make a good life for themselves when they grow up, and from that, we all will benefit.”

I think Erin makes a pretty convincing case. The only reason I don’t jump on the daycare bandwagon is because we are still short in funding urban infrastructure to the level that it needs. Or our education system. Or our health system. Or our military. But it is clear that, in this approach, the money we invest in a daycare system now will pay off in a substantial increase in prosperity twenty years down the line, in a similar way that some say providing free university education paid for itself in Ireland.

This is not an argument disparaging the abilities of parents to make their own choices, any more than our universal education system is so. Neither is this some ploy to take children away from their parents. The Conservatives’ $1200 per year baby bonus has its merits, but some of the flaws cited in the Liberal and NDP proposals amount to Conservative hysteria.

blog comments powered by Disqus