Saturday, September 20, 2008

What They're Promising To Buy With Money I Work Hard To Earn, Part 1: Child Care

Nation, the Tories are discovering the difficulty in running a campaign as the governing party: UNlike last election, where they could unveil a new plank of the platform every day, they now find themselves in a position where, if they come out with a bright idea or exciting new program, the question most asked is "why didn't you just implement this already, as the government?".

Now, child-care doesn't affect me directly - yet (or at least, not that anyone can prove). However, if I assume that whichever party gets elected will actually follow through on their child-care pledges, and will be re-elected circa 2012, then these proposed plans will very MUCH affect the situation in which I'll find myself when trying to find suitable public daycare space for any future Savages that might come along.

Predictably, there have been no big Tory announcements about public child-care - nor will I be holding my breath for any.

The Greens haven't released a detailed plan for childcare either, except to say that they want to bring back the Martin/Dryden Liberal plan of 2005. Like all of their other plans (to date), it will probably be released without a price tag attached.

The Liberals have promised a $1.25 Billion (annually) program, which involves the creation of 165,000 spaces. Actual details have been a little thin, but based on previous Liberal child-care commitments, you've got to assume it would involve a phased-in, gradual implementation.

The New Democrats have committed to the immediate enshrinement and protection of a national child-care program in law. In the first year of the program, an NDP government would spend $1.4 Billion, and would create 150,000 new spaces in public daycares - in the first year alone. The eventual cost is estimated at $2.2 Billion per year.

What I want to know from Jack Layton, is how he intends to find the STAFF to suit those 150,000 new spaces in the first year. Does he want us to believe that they'll appear out of thin air? Of course not... we'll end up with poorly-trained, poorly-screened staff looking after the kids of Jack's all-important "working families".

Layton's emphasis on affordable public child-care is laudable, but his ploy here is transparent: He wants the votes of people who need child-care NOW. Like all things you do quickly and without due diligence, however, things will get skipped or done poorly. And when we're talking about situations in which hundreds of thousands of Canadian children will be at risk - I'd prefer a measured, well-thought-out approach to something quickly thought-up to try and win votes from frustrated, cash-strapped parents.

On the issue in general, I agree with the mixed approach pioneered by the Tories and now begrudgingly embraced by the Grits... Some parents are going to stay home to raise their kids, and some parents are going to need to go back to work once the kids are 3 or 4. Both should benefit from a national program. However, we need a reliable, affordable, malleable and capacious system of public child-care to provide parents with the peace-of-mind that comes from knowing that there will be space when they need it, they will be able to afford it, and the people with whom they are entrusting the care of their small children will be highly-trained, professional, well-paid (and thus retained), fully screened and trustworthy. These are the expectations we have of our K-12 education system, and we should expect no less - and, in fact, perhaps more - from a child-care system.

I like the NDP commitment to the issue, as I said. But their pledge of immediate results makes me nervous - in order to get it done that quickly, steps will have to be skipped. And when you're skipping steps and things get missed, when children are involved, that's a recipe for disaster. Renew the pledge, but change the timeline, Jack. We want your child-care system, but we want it set up RIGHT, not just QUICKLY in the name of political expediency.

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