We may be on the cusp of a national childcare program. Why has it taken so long to get here? Susan Delacourt writes that all three of our major parties share the blame:
Start with the Liberals. It is true that the past Liberal government delivered a national child-care program, province by province, with the final deal sealed just before the 2005 election that would send Paul Martin’s government to defeat.
Stephen Harper’s Conservatives campaigned against that Liberal child-care system, arguing that their proposal to give money directly to parents was the better way. “Choice in Child Care,” it was called, and parents would get $100 a month. When the Conservatives won power in early 2006, they duly sent out the cheques and dismantled all those deals that the old Liberal minister, Ken Dryden, had put together.
New Democrats had a hand in that defeat for child care by bringing down the Martin government, as Les Whittington, former political reporter for the Toronto Star, noted in a column this week for the Hill Times.
But we as citizens also share the blame:
So did the voting public, mind you. As Dryden said a few years later, he kept running into voters in the 2005-06 election who were sure they would get to keep the best of all worlds: the Conservatives’ cheques for parents and a national child-care program.
That history should teach us a few lessons
Liberals are proposing to go at this new program with more money — lots more — than what was on the table in the 2000s. But while the $30-billion over five years is certainly more than the $5-billion Martin and Dryden promised, the process is close to identical: protracted negotiations with the provinces, with the hope that one plus one plus one over the long haul will eventually add up to something national.
That may be the only way we get to national programs in this fractured federation — Canada’s cherished national health-care system came about the same way, after all — but it’s a slow road, littered with petty bureaucratic and political dramas.
Put it this way: if you liked how the various levels of government worked together for national vaccine rollout or paid sick days, you’re going to love the new child-care program.
And the Conservatives are ignoring their part in that history:
Conservatives, meanwhile, have displayed remarkable nerve this week arguing that Liberals failed to deliver a national child-care program that they killed 15 years ago. They have, however, managed to remember just how much they preferred the idea of cheques going directly to parents — all that “families know best” stuff they’ve dusted off for use in another decade.
“The problem with what the Liberals are proposing I think is worse because it limits a family’s choice,” Saskatchewan Conservative MP Corey Tochor said this week. Tochor wasn’t an elected politician back when we last did this child-care drama, but he has the old script intact. “We should be trusting families to make the choices that are right for them.”
Finally, we may get national childcare. Maybe. If we don't screw it up.