As an all-star goalie in the NHL for a decade, Ken Dryden always played a defensive role and never scored a goal himself. After his first meeting with the provinces as the federal Liberal government’s new social development minister, the former Montreal Canadien must be wondering if his political career is going to be all that different.

Dryden is the Liberals’ point man for pushing their long-promised, but never-delivered, national daycare program. And, in the wake of the meeting, he found himself fending off shots from all directions. Feminists cried that there wasn’t anywhere near enough money on the table, while the provinces balked at indications the feds will want to have some measure of control over provincially run daycare facilities.

Yet, Dryden seems to have remembered a thing or two from his hockey-playing days about encouraging success; namely, bringing in a “ringer” for the big game. Dryden’s first ministers’ meeting was preceded by a widely publicized report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development backing the push for a socialized daycare system.

While casual observers may have thought the timing of the release of the OECD report a coincidence, it most certainly was not. In fact, the OECD is writing a major country-by-country series of reports on childcare. It has just released the final reports on childcare in three other OECD-member countries and its full report on Canadian childcare is actually not scheduled for release until next year.

The report, released to coincide with Dryden’s announcement, is merely a preliminary report and, according to the fine print, does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the OECD, but only those of the author. Yet, the mainstream media coverage left Canadians with the impression that the OECD had essentially endorsed the Liberal’s national childcare strategy.

The authors suggest that currently, childcare in Canada is “basic babysitting, but not much else,” and, as such, does not give adequate consideration to “early childhood education.” Yet, the authors failed to visit or meet with anyone operating a non-government-funded daycare, other than a single Montessori school. Given that the large majority of Canadian children in care are to be found in more informal settings, such as church-run daycares, with relatives, or in neighbours’ homes, the statement displays complete ignorance of the reality that most Canadian families live with.

Indeed, it is arguable that children receive more “education” in informal settings from caregivers that know and love them, than they do from the impersonal instruction of “qualified” civil servants in a government-run facility.

It really is about who is best qualified to raise children, according to REAL Women of Canada president Lorraine McNamara. She says, “The authors’ one-size-fits-all concept for childcare, a national government system, will turn Canada into a truly socialist country, as the state will be raising our children, rather than the parents.”

The report leaves no doubt that this is the case. The ultimate goal explicitly in the paper: “Devise an efficient means of funding a universal early childhood service for children one to six years … governed by public agencies.”

McNamara responds, “In democratic countries, it is the parents who make decisions as to how their children are raised. It is the parents’ right to decide whether the child is raised at home by a parent or other family member, in private daycare, or government-operated daycare. It is essential that childcare legislation in Canada supports a flexible system to suit diverse needs and family values. Rather than further taxing parents and running childcare nationally, governments should direct childcare funds to the parents themselves, thus allowing them to choose the kind of care they want for their children.”

The interim OECD report, by its own admission did not study the issue in major detail, relying instead on studies conducted by well-known Canadian daycare zealots who receive significant funding from the federal Liberals, including Martha Friendly of the University of Toronto. As such, the conclusions generated are suspect.

Indeed, while the report’s authors did spend a couple of days in each of four provinces visiting a few daycare centres, they did not visit Quebec. Yet, they still asserted that, “Only a significant increase in investment, like that in Quebec, is likely to bring about desired change.” This is a remarkable assertion, given that the authors admit they had no first-hand knowledge of Quebec’s daycare system.

REAL Women spokesman Diane Watts said, “Strangers don’t know children like their parents do. Kids really need their parents at that early age. That’s the best environment for raising children. And polls demonstrate that’s what parents want as well.”

But, she said, that’s not what will happen with the Liberal plan. “Universal daycare raises taxes and reduces parents’ choices. A federal study in 1986 estimated that a universal program will cost $11.3 billion annually. And even the childcare lobby admits it will cost $10 billion a year. But Canadians aren’t willing to pay for such a program.”

Watts said, “We’re pro-choice on childcare. Our position is that funding for childcare should be handed out directly to parents, or not taxed away in the first place. We need equal tax credits or deductions for all parents, regardless of their childcare choices. The current system works to the detriment of single-income families.”

However, until they’re defeated at the polls, the Liberals seem likely to plough ahead with their plans.

“There is a very strong feminist caucus in the Liberal party. They believe that ‘trained professionals’ are best qualified to raise our children,” said Watts.