This is an election year in Quebec and according to the opinion polls the Parti Quebecois will form the next government. In an attempt to woo voters, the Liberal government of Daniel Johnson brought down a budget in which they reversed course, dropped “fiscal responsibility,” and emphasized “social issues” such as lower taxes for two wage earner families, subsidies for daycare etc. The media was generally positive in its analysis, but those of us in the traditional family counter-culture are somewhat less impressed.
As has been the trend elsewhere, single earner families in Quebec take a back seat to policies which promote dual income families. The highly publicized daycare strike pressured the government to act. The budget included salary increases averaging one dollar per hour for daycare workers, although union officials complained that the government offer would not cover administrative and cleaning personnel. Further subsidies for parents working outside the home were also included in the budget.
The government policy which subsidizes families where mothers work outside the home faithfully reflects today’s politically correct ideology which discriminates against mothers who choose to provide daycare for their children in the family home. Apparently, we women at home are supposed to be happy that we have “rich” husbands willing to “keep” us in our 1950s fantasy.
It is plainly wrong, for example, that the tuition we pay to send our children to preschool and kindergarten or summer day camp is fully tax deductible for those families where both parents work outside the home. Same school, same class, same teachers…but those who work outside the home get a free ride. This is not based on economic need, but on political ideology.
Discrimination against the traditional family is justified in the conventional wisdom by the naïve assumption that the increase in working mothers outside the home is motivated by economic need; in order to make ends meet the modern family needs two wage earners.
The economic need argument is somewhat artificial and could be abrogated by changing tax policy. The average Canadian, including those in two wage earner families, works until the second week of July to pay taxes. If taxes were lower, families would keep more of their income, reducing the need for a second income, and allowing families greater flexibility when balancing employment and child care needs.
The concept of a “family wage” that would allow mothers of young children to spend more time at home is an alternative solution that has received little public debate possibly, in part, because it received favourable comment from Pope John Paul II in his 1981 encyclical entitled On Human Labor, as well as in several recent statements. It can be accomplished either through paying mothers at home, or through tax breaks which empower families to greater self-sufficiency.
The contribution of mothers’ unpaid labour to the overall wealth of society is significant. A recent report by Statistics Canada indicates that the value of unpaid housework varies between $211 and $319 billion which is equivalent to between 30 and 46 per cent of Canada’s annual gross domestic product.
For government, unpaid housework represents lost taxes. Daycare performed in the home by unpaid mothers is an untaxed activity which explains the push by government to get mothers out of the home into the taxable paid labour market and children into taxable child care.
The pope’s appeal for a family wage is based on a concern for the rights of the family rather than narrow self interest.
“The toil of a woman who, having given birth to a child, nourishes and cares for that child and devotes herself to its upbringing, particularly in the early years, is so great as to be comparable to any professional work performed in modern society. Recognition of the essential role of motherhood for the good of society should be clearly defined like any other labor right. Motherhood should be recognized as creating the right to certain financial benefits at least equal to those of other kinds of work undertaken to support the family in society.”
An objective reading of the pope’s letter reveals the truthfulness and wisdom of his analysis. Unfortunately, objectivity and truth are all too frequently the first victims of the political process.