Great editorial in The Toronto Star last week on how the Conservative government – proud as a peacock – celebrated the anniversary of their universal child-care benefit.  I don’t even know how to add to it, they articulated it so perfectly.  But here is the best excerpt:

No wonder Canada tied for last among developed countries for providing affordable, quality daycare in a United Nations study.

Rather than deal with this crisis, which causes financial havoc for families and keeps women out of the workforce, the Harper government prefers to proudly blow out the candles on yet another year — we’re at five now — of handing out $2.6 billion in taxpayers’ money without producing any new daycare spaces or enabling parents to afford existing ones. That’s cause for shame, not celebration.

However useful these monthly cheques may be to some families to pay for a recreation class or babysitting for a few nights out, they do not give parents the choice to pay for quality child care, assuming they can even find it, while they work. Nor do they make it affordable for a working parent to stay at home.

As a country, we should be embarrassed that the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) describes our childcare system “as a chronically underfunded patchwork of programs with no overarching goals. It found that many centres were shabby and many workers were poorly trained. As well, staff turnover at many centres was very high.”  And that’s even if you could find a daycare space.  In Toronto alone, there are some 18,000 families on waiting lists.  The OECD report (from 2009) said we have enough spaces to accommodate less than 20% of kids aged 6 and under, compared to 60% in the U.K. and 69% in France.  As the saying goes, “We can fly a man to the moon, but we can’t…”

The number of university-educated women  is fast outnumbering men, which means more and more women are entering the workforce, driving the country’s economic engine.  Until men take over primary caregiver responsibilities (don’t hold your breath), the federal government has a responsibility to provide an affordable, national daycare plan.  Without it, more children will grow up in conditions of poverty because their mothers cannot afford to be in the workforce.  Or I guess Stephen Harper will have to re-think his position and re-open the debate on abortion (definitely don’t hold your breath for that)!

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