Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario

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Daycare plan's potty

By CHRISTINA BLIZZARD
Toronto Sun

Well, I guess this really is the nanny state. First the government tries to stop you from eating real sushi. And riding a bike without a helmet. And owning a pit bull.

And, oh, about 15 years from now -- if the federal government comes up with hundreds of millions of dollars in extra cash, if there's enough space in your local school -- the Liberals will provide subsidized daycare for your 2 1/2-year-old child (who by then should be ready to go to university).

Hey, how about $5-a-day university tuition?

To hear all the self congratulatory back-patting that happened at Queen's Park yesterday, you'd have thought the government had done something really important, like found a cure for male mattern baldness or fixed the hole in the ozone layer.

Premier Dalton McGuinty and his Children's Minister, Marie Bountrogianni, were full of feel-good platitudes about children being our future. Stop the presses.

What I didn't hear was any commitment to the best kind of daycare -- the thousands of parents around the province who make great financial sacrifices in order to stay home and care for their own children.

But if you want to march your toddler off to school at two and a half, you'll get a full subsidy if you make less than $25,000, and a partial subsidy if you make less than $75,000.

It's all a little potty if you ask me. Kids that age are way too young to be institutionalized eight or nine hours a day.

I asked Bountrogianni if the government planned to cancel the Tories' child tax credit, which gives low-income families a tax break for child care -- no matter who delivers it. She didn't know the answer at the time. But to give her credit, she phoned me back personally to say the tax credit will stay.

That's good. Because out there in the real world, people have to juggle their working lives with all kinds of child care arrangements. Some people can't use daycare because they work shifts. If the kids go to grandma, you still get a break with the tax credit. But these costly new subsidies will only be available if you put your child in state-run care.

There was an oddly familiar ring to the Liberal message. They want more money from Ottawa for child care.

Fair enough, that fat fed surplus sure is tempting, especially when Ottawa has asked the province to help come up with a national daycare strategy. But whenever the Tories made those kinds of noises in the past, Liberals called it "fed-bashing."

McGuinty tried hard yesterday to make it sound as if he's not whining. Trust me, though, he was whining about the shortfall in federal funds. "It's only fair that the feds come to the table with real dollars ... to ensure that Ontario's children get the best start in life," he said.

As if to underline just how half-hearted this announcement is, the Liberals are committing a paltry $8.3 million annually to the program, which will be delivered through school boards and existing municipal agencies. It will create 50,000 spaces for 100,000 kids.

Fair enough, for a handful of working parents, this will be a blessing.

The Liberals propose "wraparound" care that will provide children with programs before and after school.

But in practice, I suspect the promise will be difficult to deliver. There will have to be a large capital building program in some areas to provide daycare in crowded schools.

Finally, is this really something we want? What kind of a message are we sending to parents, that they can produce herds of rugrats, then ship them out the door from dawn to dusk to have someone else raise them? Why are hard-pressed taxpayers subsidizing daycare for working couples? And whatever happened to parents taking responsibility for raising their own children?