Children in the Thunder Bay-Rainy River riding may not be olda enough to vote, but local candidates are hoping to catch the ear of parents with promises of child-care solutions come election day.
Three of the four main political parties and their local candidates are championing some form of a nation-wide child care program, but Conservative party candidate Richard Neumann sees such programs as too expensive.
Figures being given out by his opponents are too low, said Neumann, and that it will cost billions more than they are pledging.
“These things always end up costing more,” he warned. “I don’t believe that that’s a realistic expenditure. As nice as it sounds, I don’t believe it’s realistic to provide a national day care program for every Canadian across the country.
“The cost is simply too excessive.”
“I think that we need to focus our efforts on doing what government does today a lot better before we enter into another brand new, costly national program of that nature,” said Neumann.
He said this includes continuing with policies like the Harper government already has enacted that “lower the cost to your average family, right across the board through a host of different tax-cutting measures,” such as the universal child care benefit, the $2,000 tax credit for every child under the age of 18, and reducing the GST.
“All of these things have played a combined role in trying to reduce the financial burden on individual families so that they’re better in a position to afford things like [day care],” he said.
Neumann also pointed to the investment of roughly $200 million per year given by the federal government to provincial governments to create more child care spaces—a pledge made by the Conservatives during the 2006 election campaign.
“So well done. However, how is this money being spent?” he asked. “I think it’s a reasonable concern that individual provinces have been doing different things with that money. Some of them have been applying it to different measures within the realm of child care and subsequently it’s become very hard to track how effective that investment has been.
“And I think we need to look at ways to make the provinces a little more accountable for the amount of money that we’re investing.”
Despite all these investments, tax reductions, and rebates, NDP candidate John Rafferty charged not a single child care space has been created since the Conservatives formed the government.
The NDP always has been committed to a comprehensive national childcare program, he said.
“Comprehensive means that we’ll work with the provinces in the careful step-by-step fashion to build the affordable spaces that families need, and we’re committing to invest $1.45 billion in the first year, and as finances permit we’ll steadily build on that funding until the program is fully phased in,” said Rafferty.
The NDP plan, he explained, calls for an initial opening of 150,000 spaces with the “long-term goal of a space for every child that needs one in the country.”
“Canada can’t afford not to invest in our children. We just simply can’t afford not to,” he stressed.
Allotment of these spots will be worked out with the provinces, said Rafferty, but it will be based on population, so Ontario will get a “fair chunk” of that and further funding so “there will be a significant amount of money available for Northern Ontario.”
As for the $100 monthly rebate put into place by the Conservative government, Rafferty called it regressive—something that doesn’t help to pay for the real costs it takes to care for children.
With a four-year-old daughter who has gone through child care, Green Party candidate Russ Aegard has firsthand experience with the Conservative government’s rebate.
“I’m part of that Conservative program, the $100 a month, which doesn’t cover a whole lot,” he remarked. “That basically covered, I would say, three days. Three days out of 20.
“So unfortunately, it falls way short of what even the Liberals had before the election, and when the Conservatives cut that.”
The Green Party supports a universal child care program, Aegard explained, one that is publicly-owned, funded, or government regulated.
“We don’t want for-profit child care because somebody’s getting money somewhere, and that’s taking away from the children themselves,” he argued.
While a universal child care program is not something that can be implemented right away because of financial constraints, Aegard believes it is something to be worked towards—even the Liberal plan is something to be looked towards.
“[Lack of spaces] certainly needs to be corrected and the only way it can be corrected is if we have more funding, more qualified day care workers, and making sure it’s still in control of public money and not for-profit,” Aegard said.
But these lack of child care spots aren’t just because of the Conservative’s day care plans, said incumbent Liberal candidate Ken Boshcoff.
“I will say this again, and it’s an important part of my statement because it’s a partisan statement, but it has to be said: Northwestern Ontario lost 1,200 child care spots when the NDP supported the Conservatives to bring down Paul Martin,” said Boshcoff.
“We would have had 1,200 spots, which would have meant hundreds of families would have been able to go to work, because in many sectors in the northwest, people can’t take the jobs because they have to stay home.
“It is very clearly the fault of the NDP that we don’t have this.”
The Liberals would reinstate these day care spots, said Boshcoff, including going back to the party’s original plans for the national program. “I think that the rest of the world is way ahead of us in terms of early learning and we really must catch up,” he added.
As for the Conservative’s $100-per-month rebate, this would stay in place, Boshcoff noted, even though he has not really seen it being of benefit to the people in this area.
“No one knew that it was going to be taxed. But the problem is that it is in place, so we would just let it stand.”