Ken Dryden, the Liberal minister for social development, has been spearheading the Liberal party’s push to impose universal, publicly funded daycare, but his insistence on the intervention of the state in child-rearing has been a recent development. Dryden, in a speech in Saskatchewan in March 2002, sang a different tune. He said that the needs of children are met when they can spend more time with their parents. Characterizing the slogan “quality time” as an excuse used by modern parents to assuage their guilt for not spending enough time at home, Dryden said, “‘Quality time’ is a crock. It is our own purposeful delusion. In fact, essential to ‘quality’ is quantity.’”

Now, however, Dryden’s new responsibilities as a Liberal cabinet minister appear to be dictating a set of values more in tune with the party’s policies of total, state-sponsored early education. On March 3, he told a group of students at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax that Canadians will begin to view quality, subsidized child care as being as vital to the country as its public education system.

Observers suggest his current vehemence against stay-at-home parents, and in favour of child care benefits only for parents willing to send their children to daycare, underlies a guilty conscience. In the House of Commons this past Feb. 15, Dryden said: “For economic reasons, for reasons of lifestyle, for reasons of independence and lots more, in the great majority of cases, both parents, even with young children, are in the workforce. We can feel guilty. We can wish it were not so, but it is so, and all the time as parents that we are wishing, our kids are growing up without the rich, important learning experience that early learning and child care can offer. Our kids are paying the price for our wishful thinking. We need to get on with it, do it right, and do it the best we can.”

This line of thought is in contrast to his 2002 speech, in which he said, “As policy-makers, as parents, we need to understand the real ‘why’ of time. A kid’s ‘why.’ Then, to create opportunities for time. Because more time offers the chance for a richer parent-child experience, one more interesting, more compelling, more fun, which generates, in the parent, a greater will for time which, in turn, generates imaginative new ideas to create time. Eventually, perhaps, generating a habit of time. There are lots of ways to help our kids to be better – central, critical to all of them, is generating more time.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” said the Conservative party MP for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, Sask., Maurice Vellacott. “It’s tragic that the minister is singing a different song now that he is a Liberal cabinet minister.”

Dryden’s own words in 2002 would put him in agreement with one of his sharpest critics, the Conservative MP for Edmonton-Spruce Grove, Rona Ambrose, who said that the best parenting for children comes from parents, not paid employees of the state. She said in the House on Feb. 15, “Parents, and not the federal government, are in the best position to determine which type of child care best suits their children.” Ambrose added, “Nine out of 10 Canadians feel that in a two-parent situation, ideally, one parent should stay at home to raise the children.”

Just a few weeks ago, the social development minister dismissed statistics indicating that most families would avoid a dual-income situation, with one parent staying home with their young children, if they could afford to do so.

“If quantity time is so important in the parent-child relationship, why is the minister not prepared to do whatever he can to reduce today’s oppressive tax burden on parents when it comes to their child care choices?” asked Vellacott.

Child care arrangements*
outside Quebec (2001)
51% were looked after by a parent
17% were watched by other relatives
16% were cared for by a neighbour or other informal arrangement
10% attended regulated daycare

*Children under six.

Source: National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth