One easy choice among many difficult ones
As I was reminded the last time I posted about it, childcare is a delicate topic.
The choice to forego a second income in order to have one parent stay home is gut wrenching. Alternatively if both parents choose to work outside the home, deciding how to take care of your children when you're not there to do it yourself is no less tortuous. Since the issue is so emotionally charged, it becomes tricky discerning what's best for the child: how do you balance the care and focus only a parent's love can bring against the ability to live in a good neighbourhood and afford books and swimming lessons and trips to the museum that expand your child's horizons? These are apples and oranges we're comparing here, and once you throw in the fact that each individual child's needs are different, it's clear there's no universally right or wrong choice.
Oh, and if you're thinking solely in terms of the choices available to two parent families, you're missing out on a significant and increasing portion (chart p.19) of the Canadian population. The options available to single parents are even more limited and the choices more excruciating than for the rest of us.
The most we can hope for is that each parent make their choice with the best interests of the child in mind.
I think boiled down to its essence, that's why I prefer the Conservative approach to the Liberal one when it comes to childcare policy. Each family is different, and one size doesn't fit all.
You see, the Liberals believe only in regulated care, and so have geared their policy exclusively toward that option:
Today in Canada, 84 per cent of parents with children are both in the workforce and 70 per cent of women with children under the age of six are employed. Furthermore, the great majority of children under the age of six are receiving child care in some form, yet only one in five is in regulated care. More accessible, regulated child care spaces are a necessity.
The Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that the federal government has no business favouring one family over another based upon a choice between equally legitimate childcare options:
The plan will help parents to choose the decision that best suits their families – whether it means formal child care, informal care through neighbours or relatives, or a parent staying at home.
Now, don't get me wrong: just because I favour the Conservative approach doesn't mean I'm blind to its shortcomings. One hundred dollars per month is a drop in the bucket when it comes to childcare expenses. It certainly won't replace an outside-the-home income. The $250 million per year Community Childcare Investment Program is a good start to dealing with the infrastructure gap that exists across the country, but it's not a fix-all.
The one clear advantage it has over the Liberal plan is that it doesn't tell families who have relatives looking after the kids, families where the parents work shifts, families where one parent stays home, families that feel better having a neighbour or a friend care for their kids that their choices aren't worth supporting. It doesn't force families who choose something other than the state-favoured and state-sponsored regulated care to subsidize those who do.
Childcare is a difficult enough issue as it stands, without the Liberals driving a wedge between those who choose a sponsored facility for their kids and those who don't.
From that standpoint, the choice between the two plans couldn't be clearer. If you favour regulated care, if you feel the government should support regulated care over every other childcare option, and if you feel families who don't choose regulated care should subsidize those who do with their tax dollars, then the Liberal plan's for you.
If you prefer that the federal government simply give all families a little more financial help to facilitate whatever choice they've made (including regulated care), if you think a national childcare policy should be truly inclusive of all families, and if you don't think the government has any business pushing one childcare choice over another, then the Conservative plan wins out.
When it comes to childcare, that's probably the simplest choice parents will ever face.