To the student of politics nothing is better calculated to induce deep despair than witnessing a floundering government adopt a sound policy but fail to follow through with adequate fiscal resources to fulfill it.
The Mulroney government has conspicuously failed to provide adequate fiscal backing for its recent child-care proposals.
Under these plans, the federal government is to provide $300 million a year in refundable tax credits to parents who have no recorded costs for acquiring child care outside their homes, as well as $284 million in fiscal relief for those with children in recognized day nurseries.
The Mulroney government, when presented with competing claims from those favouring institutional care for infants, and those advocating fiscal support for mothers caring for their own children in their own homes, chose to come down the middle and make concession to both sides.
The proposed fiscal measures however, fall almost derisorily short of the social need.
The issue of publicly financing the care of pre-school children has assumed a prominence in national discussion which would hardly have been imaginable a few short years ago. Regrettably, this debate has focused to an abnormal degree on the claims of the proponents of non-profit day-nursery institutions for enhanced public financing.
This preoccupation with one form of child-care is misplaced. Only about 150,000 children are receiving care from such institutions, while the rest are either cared for at home by one of their parents, tended by full-time housekeepers or nannies, or furnished with more informal care in the homes of neighbours.
The advocates of institutionalized child-care are tireless in asserting that 57 per cent of Canadian women with pre-school age children under their care are obliged to take jobs outside their homes.
This position ignores two salient facts. In the first instance, this statistic acknowledges that 43 per cent of Canadian women with infant children under their care to not have work outside their homes, and the incomes deriving from there.
The doctrine of limitless institutionalized child-care ignores the injustice of economically coercing women with children into taking jobs outside their homes.
If the Mulroney government provides subsidies for the job of caring for children in day-nursery institutions, it would be morally indefensible for it not to provide grants for women caring for their children in their own homes. It is the same work and requires the same consideration. All infant child-care must be paid work.
Real economic advantages derive from providing fiscal support for women caring for their own children in their own homes. In our complex industrial economy, it costs an average of more than $50,000 to create a new job, and another $10,000 to create public transportation or expressway facilities for one commuter.
Any woman working at home to provide full-time care for her children is relieving the national economy of the necessity for spending at least another $60,000 to provide her with a job and commuter facilities.
Canadian women working full-time caring for their own children in their own homes should receive fiscal support for the cost they are sparing the hard-pressed economy.
The public financing of institutional child-care has its limitations. The theory is that such institutions release women for full-time employment outside their homes.
However, many women with infant children are forced to take entry-level, low paying service industry jobs, and often are earning less at such work than it costs to send their children in day nurseries.
It costs around $5,500 a year to care for each child in day nurseries, and unions are already complaining that the pay of day-nursery workers, at $14,000 a year, is inadequate.
With mounting wage costs, it is likely that it will soon cost $8,000 a year to care for children I day nurseries. No economic logic inheres in a woman placing two children in a day nursery at a cost of $16,000 a year, in order to earn $9.000 a year working in a fast food outlet.
The Canadian government must take an impartial position in respect of infant child-care expenses. It must introduce universal child-care grants which make it possible for women with children under their care to decide how those children will be cared for.
A basic grant of around $4,500 a year should be awarded on behalf of each child under the age of five. Many women with children under their care will use such monies to finance their working full time at home at the demanding job of caring for their children, which is a social option all women with children must have.
Others will use the grants to help defray the costs of hiring a full-time housekeeper or nanny for their children. Others will use the grants to help defray the purchase of child- care from neighbours, while some will use them to buy child-care from day nurseries.
All infant child care must be paid work, ad all women with infant children under their care must receive child-care grants, which will give them that freedom of social choice which is a minimal civilized objective.