| Jan 19, 2006


Feature Article - January 19, 2006

Feature Article

January 19, 2006

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Will rural daycare be the biggest loser on January 23?

Editorial by Jeff Green

At the all-candidates meeting that the Frontenac News sponsored in Verona on Monday night, the usual range of questions were asked of the seven candidates for the Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington seat in the next federal parliament. Among them were a couple of questions about daycare, focusing on the difference between the Liberal and Conservative proposals.

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The tone of the questioning tended to turn daycare policy into an ideological issue. The much-publicized Conservative promise to pay $25 a week for every child under six directly to parents was understood by many to be a commitment to the concept of the family in contrast to the Liberal proposal to “institutionalize” children in state run daycare centres.

One of the questioners went so far as to explain how upset he is with the way children are talked about by government, as human capital, potential economic assets or liabilities, etc.

The reality, in this riding particularly, and in the Province of Ontario generally, is that daycare advocates, such as members of the “Coalition for Better Childcare” and others, after many years of lobbying the provincial government for improvements to daycare and early learning opportunities in the interest of children and their families, have finally made some headway. Plans are being developed, based on a funding agreement between the provincial and federal governments, to bring affordable childcare to portions of the population who have been left out for many years.

In Sharbot Lake, for example, The Child Centre has been offering daycare since 1990. It is a not-for profit entity, and subsidies have been available, financed by provincial and municipal taxes, for children of low - income families to receive daycare. Since the Child Centre also provides a range of early childhood services, children in the daycare also receive other kinds of supports.

Because of the way subsidies have been calculated, many families have not been able make use of the daycare at the Child Centre. They earn too much money to receive subsidy, but not enough to be able to afford the service. Home-based private daycare service providers in the area might be able to provide service at a lower cost to parents, but families who make use of private daycare services are not eligible for subsidies whatsoever, no matter what their income level.

So, families have been scrambling to find care for their children. In many cases, low rural wages mean that both parents need to work, at least on a part-time basis, in order to pay the bills. It is not a matter of choice.

Finally, after years of foot dragging, the Ontario Provincial Government has committed to increasing the number of daycare spaces in the next couple of years, and to opening up the subsidy process, so families with incomes between $30,000 and $75,000 will be eligible for partial daycare subsidies. And, these subsidies will be available for families that use daycare centres such as the Child Centre in Sharbot Lake and the Frontenac County Child Centre in Sydenham.

After years of lobbying, the funding and the political will have finally been developed to support middle income families who need daycare on a full or part-time basis. This is progress.

Scott Reid said two interesting things in Verona about the Conservative daycare policy. First, he likened the $100 per month payment to families for daycare to other direct transfers for parents, and said that a Conservative Government trusts that parents will use money to do what is best for their children.

This point is well taken; families can be trusted to use federal income supports wisely for their families. However, such payments are not really part of a daycare policy; they are a family support policy.

His second point was that rural Ontario is too sparsely populated to benefit from a national daycare program, and so the Conservative policy of providing $25 a week is better than a daycare strategy which serves only urban families.

This point is not so well taken. Throughout the riding creative solutions for rural families have been and are being developed. Not-for-profit, licensed daycare centres serve many parts of the riding, and a system of private, licensed home daycares, which will also be eligible for subsidy, are also being developed.

For the many parents who need to work and who use these daycares, or who would like to be able to afford to use them, there is not much comfort in the Conservative proposal to stop supporting development of this system.

If the Conservative proposal to pay families $1,200 each year for childcare were coupled with a commitment to maintain support for the advances that are being planned for children in Ontario, then it would a good thing.

But if, as is indicated, it is tied to an incentive program that is primarily directed at developing workplace daycare options, which will clearly not work in a rural context where there are no large employers, it will be a bad thing for rural Ontario.

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