Liberal, Conservative approaches differ over
the best venue for raising children

The Interim

“Beer and popcorn.” That’s supposedly what Canadian parents will waste their money on under the Conservative party’s new choice-in-childcare allowance. And that’s what two of Liberal leader Paul Martin’s closest advisers, Scott Reid and John Duffy, were saying about the Conservatives’ “Choice in Childcare” plan. At least, they were until Liberal party pollsters discovered the negative impact the statements were having. Then they reined in their attack.

Stephen Harper made an election announcement that a Conservative government would give parents $1,200 annually for each child under the age of six, to spend as they see best. The Conservative proposal offers Canadian parents choice in childcare for the first time in a generation, as they will be able to spend the money on public or private daycare, care by friends or relatives or simply offset the income that might be lost with one parent staying at home.

The Conservative leader made the point that the Liberals’ one-size-fits all plan for nine-to-five childcare can’t work for a large number of Canadian families, including those in rural and remote areas, those working shifts and weekends and for many of those with irregular or part-time work. Instead, the Conservative plan treats all families equally, allowing parents to expend their childcare dollars anyway they want.

The Conservatives’ choice-in-childcare plan rankled top Liberals, who have long believed in building a cradle-to-grave socialist utopia that includes state-run daycare. The radical feminist ideology of the Liberal ruling class holds that children are an impediment to women achieving “equality” in the workplace and therefore, must be “warehoused” in state-run facilities alongside other similarly unfortunate moppets.

However, most Canadians don’t subscribe to such extremist theories. Instead, over 90 per cent of families stated in recent polls they would prefer having the option of one parent staying at home with the children, at least while they are young.

The Liberals’ social development minister, former NHL goaltender Ken Dryden, scoffed at those poll results in February by stating in Parliament, “If we asked them if they would like ice cream once a week and chocolate twice a day, about the same percentage would say the same.” Dryden took his comments a step further in November, appearing on an Ottawa radio talk show and openly attacking stay-at-home parents as the kind of people who would try to treat their children at home, rather than take them to the hospital.

Lest anyone think that Dryden’s comments are simply the ramblings of someone who was hit in the head with a puck too many times as a Montreal Canadiens goalie, consider the comments of a couple of other Liberals. Liberal Trade Minister Jim Peterson suggested in 1999 that families in which two parents are employed work twice as hard as families with a stay-at-home parent. And, the prime minister’s handpicked candidate in South Surrey-White Rock, B.C., Jim McMurtry, stated recently that home schooling by stay-at-home parents “can be perceived as a form of child abuse.”

However, the bottom line for Alberta Conservative MP Rona Ambrose is, “Clearly, these top Liberals said what they really believe: that parents waste their money on frivolous choices, rather than their kids’ real needs. The Liberals just don’t get it. Parents make enormous sacrifices for their kids and need every bit of help they can get.”

Yet, even the minority of Canadian parents who want access to state-run daycare can be forgiven for being a little cynical about the Liberal promise to spend a billion dollars a year. After all, the same promise was made in the original Red Book of 1993 and has been repeated in each of the subsequent four elections, yet not a single additional daycare space has been created by the federal government in the last 12 years.

However, that broken promise has probably worked to the advantage of many children who might have been institutionalized had the Liberals actually moved ahead with their national daycare plan. According to a new study conducted by researchers from the Universities of Toronto and British Columbia, and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and published this summer by Statistics Canada, a daycare is about the worst place one can send a child.

The study’s authors confirmed what many other researchers have found: “Striking evidence that children are worse off in a variety of behavioral and health dimensions, ranging from aggression to motor-social skills to illness.” So much for the Liberal argument that a state-run system offers “quality” care.

The authors also concluded that use of Quebec’s much ballyhooed $5-a-day daycare has “led to more hostile, less consistent parenting, worse parental health and lower-quality parental relationships.”

Insulting as the “beer and popcorn” comments were, they served a very useful purpose in reminding Canadians of the vast gulf between the Liberals and the Conservatives on a question of fundamental importance to many Canadian families. And, perhaps it will even affect how some of them vote Jan. 23.