Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Tory daycare plan: faulty ideology?

James Bow, with a little help from his wife Erin, takes a look at the daycare debate. It's a really interesting read, and in quoting extensively from a debate that he had with a commenter who favours the Conservative plan, he manages to give equal attention to both sides while hesitantly coming out on the side of a universal plan of the sort favoured by the Liberals and the NDP.

Reading James' post--and especially reading the quotes from the commenter in favour of Harperbucks for Kids--I'm struck by how whiny Conservatives sound when they complain about how the Liberal and NDP plans don't help them, as they're not choosing to put their children into daycare. Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: the myth that the Conservative plan "helps everybody equally" is exactly that--a myth. Leaving aside the fact that giving $1200 a year to a rich family and giving $1200 to a poor family is quite different from helping both families equally, there are in fact millions and millions of Canadians who would not be helped by the Conservative plan at all. I'm one of them--as an adult who works full-time but who has no children and no intention to have any, the Conservative plan would mean me putting my hard-earned tax dollars toward a social programme that provides absolutely no benefit to me.

By contrast, it can be argued that a universal daycare program does provide plenty of benefit to me personally, since a program that creates more daycare spaces would a) help lower-income families who don't have the choice to stay home with their children provide a safe daytime environment for the future citizens I will be living alongside, and b) stimulate the economy of the country I live in. If Harper and company really want to help everybody, then they should come up with a program that actually manages to do that, rather than favouring only the small minority of Canadians who would qualify for their $1200 a year. They're not about to do that, though, because they're not actually interested in helping everybody--in fact, they're not even particularly excited about helping families with young children. The real point of the Conservative plan wasn't to provide $1200 in Harperbucks, it was to undermine the proposed Liberal plan. The $1200 is nothing but a concession our new prime minister made so that he wouldn't look like a heartless asshole for doing what he really wanted to do--prevent the implementation of universal daycare.

Having done that, Harper has ended up in an ideological quagmire. Even Tory blogger Greg Staples argued in his last Bloggers' Hotstove podcast that individual Canadians should provide for their own children. For those who agree with that sentiment (and there are plenty) it makes complete sense to oppose universal daycare. If, on the other hand, you regard children not as belonging exclusively to their parents but also to the society they're a part of, then a program that provides a healthy environment for the children of parents who need to work during the day makes sense. But regardless of which side of the ideological fence you fall on, the Conservative plan does not make sense. If you want to offer a program that will help the maximum number of parents care for the maximum number of children in a way that fits in with the way society works for most people, then it falls short. If you think children should be provided for exclusively by their parents, then it goes too far. This is the reason why, as James Bow points out in his post, Conservatives are more likely to respond to challenges to the Harperbucks For Kids program by bashing the proposed Liberal plan rather than by defending their own plan. Harper has forced them into that tiny space between the proverbial rock and its corresponding hard place, and they're stuck arguing for a plan that's inconsistent with their own ideologies.

My real point, though, isn't to argue that I'd be getting a raw deal under the Conservative plan, even though if you look only at the dollars-and-cents bottom line, I would be. My point is that governments don't exist to cater to the eclectic life choices of Idealistic Pragmatist from Edmonton, Alberta, and they don't exist to cater to the eclectic life choices of the countless Tory bloggers whining about how a universal daycare program wouldn't help their families, either. The function of government is to act on behalf of society as a whole, and as such, the function of the Canadian federal government is to do things for the country that individual Canadians can't do on their own. Even the most die-hard of our small-government types must realize that it makes more sense for the programs the government offers to be ones that benefit not just a minority of individuals, but the whole society. And a well-run universal daycare system (which the Liberal plan arguably wouldn't produce, though that's fodder for another post) would come far, far closer to fulfilling that objective than pennies a day to a minority of individual Canadians.

1 comment:

Craig said...

Well, the evidence on whether daycare is a net benefit to the children is certainly mixed. Expansion (and cheapness of) 9-5 spaces won't help people get many entry level jobs, either, which are often night or floating shifts.

Given that, I find it hard to argue that it is better to put money into a new benefit of dubious net value, when the government is already failing to adequately provide the benefits (like Health care) that it currently funds.

I'm not saying there would be no benefits to a properly run truly univesal daycare plan. In the absence of a clear plan with clear benefits, I'd rather see the money targeted at areas where the government is currently falling short, rather than any of the party plans.