13 December 2005

Choice my foot - updated

What do Scott Reid, the prime minister's communications director and Liam O'Brien, the Conservatives chief blogger in Newfoundland and Labrador, have in common?

They are both apparently single men with no dependent children, talking about child care.

As a result, both of them miss the point about the Conservative Party's plan to give parents of children under six years of age an annual taxable payment of $1,200 for each child.

For Reid, he made the mistake of saying that parents would have $25 a week to blow on beer and popcorn instead of providing affordable child care spaces.

For O'Brien, like the party he supports, he made the mistake of claiming that the Conservative plan offers parents a choice in child care.

Neither could be farther from the truth. Simple math would have started them both on the right road.

The Conservative plan would amount to less than $25 per week or less than $5 per day, before taxes. After taxes, it could amount to as little as $2.30 per day.

For the 84% of Canadian families in which both parents work, $2.30 works out to next to nothing at all. A typical daycare in Newfoundland and Labrador costs about $500 per month for one child. That means the Conservative Party is offering less than 10% of the daily cost of that modestly priced service.

To offer meaningful choice of the kind Conservatives are talking about, one parent would stay at home providing child care for the first five years of a child's life. For single parents, the Conservative approach would mean that the parent would need income support for that entire period. In short, that means that the Conservative Party would have to offer about $30, 000 annually over a five year period.

Instead of that $150, 000, the Conservatives are offering a mere $7200, less than 5% of the amount required.

Choice my foot.

If Reid had wanted to demolish the Conservative policy for the fraud it is, he would not have raised the moronic point that the money would be spent on beer and popcorn. Even if parents in Canada were so monumentally irresponsible - and we are not - one doubts whether they could find a bottle of beer and a bag of popcorn anywhere in Canada for less than $2.50.

Rather Reid should have simply pointed to the blatant nonsense of the Conservative rhetoric about choice in light of the paltry sums the Conservatives are offering. The facts would have spoken for themselves.

If the Conservatives genuinely believed their proposal has merit, then they would not be working so hard to raise irrelevant points. Choice is but one; a parent under their program would still be compelled to send his or her child to daycare.

This undermines the second argument, one O'Brien loves, namely that the Liberal proposal is to create a "nanny-state" in which government replaces parents as caregivers. As O'Brien puts it: "stop advocating the Liberal government-daycare-one-size-fits-all monolith child care policy, opt for the fund-parents and allow-for-choice policy in child care!"

The very fact that people like O'Brien must conjure such fictitious boogie men reveals the weakness of their position.

As if that were not enough, O'Brien has now taken to challenging Liberals to fund a better choice program. He clearly does not wish to take responsibility for the failings of his own argument. Instead, he tries to fob it off on someone else. To paraphrase O'Brien, Conservatives are so sincere about choice in childcare that someone else should offer more cash to pay for it.

As single men with no children that I know of, both Reid and O'Brien are incredible commentators to start with. However it is the slipperiness of the argument, the blatant insincerity that destroys what shreds of credibility O'Brien and Conservatives could muster outside their own narrow circles. Reid's comments, as asinine as they were, simply cannot compare.

The Liberal Party solution, already in place, is to provide more child care places and early childhood learning for the majority of Canadian families who find that, in this day and age, both parents must work in order to provide an appropriate standard of living.

Given a choice, we parents might prefer to have one partner stay at home; that simply isn't an option for most of us these days. If we cannot find the support of our parents, as some of us were fortunate enough to do, we want reliable, accredited day care spaces where our children can learn and be nurtured. That is the essence of the Liberal and New Democrat child care proposals.

The current situation is not sufficient, but it is a start. As Canadians we should look at other tax and income support initiatives which firstly do not penalize couples for having children and secondly, offer genuinely nurturing experiences for children outside the home.

What we should reject are the sort of shams offered by the Conservatives under the guise of choice. Theirs are little more than meaningless words delivered, ultimately, with all the sincerity that can be mustered by the paid actors of their television commercials.

For what it is worth, Scott Reid should bear a little extra shame for his comments. He has succeeded in taking attention away from the Conservatives choice fraud. Given his apology, though, in due course, Canadians will be able to get past the howls of scorn from the Conservatives.

Their noise is merely a temporary diversion.

The shallowness of their position will soon again become plain.

[Update - Liam O'Brien's attack on this post is, predictably, longwinded. It also ignores the points made. As a friend of mine said when comparing the child care plans, anyone who thinks 12 hundred bucks offers choice in child care anywhere in this country has obviously never had children or had to pay for child care.

Liam apparently finds it a personal attack that I noted he is a single man with no dependent children commenting on child care. It would only be attack if it were untrue. As it is true - apparently - it merely constitutes pointing out a painfully obvious fact.

At the same time, a loyal e-mail correspondent advises that Mr. Reid, in fact, does have children. This is something I did not know when I wrote the post. His beer and pizza crack therefore is all the more baffling since he knows the 12 hundred bucks works out to half a tank of gas (at current prices) per week for a typical compact car like the one I drive.

The reality of the Conservatives' plan condemns it as the fraud it is.]