There’s a new entry to Canada’s list of bad ideas promoted during the COVID-19 outbreak: a literal nanny state. Aspirant recipients and allies are seizing on panic to invoke a policy monstrosity that would be a blow to children and families.
In September’s throne speech, the former governor general said: “We have long understood that Canada cannot succeed if half of the population is held back.” Moreover, she stated how the lockdowns induced women to devote more time to their children and less to formal work outside the home.
Apparently, this time with children had “rolled back the clock” in a reprehensible manner. Inadvertently, the throne speech revealed government contempt for homemakers and deference towards career women.
This sentiment is not new or related to COVID-19. The Royal Commission on the Status of Women floated the idea in 1970 and the Liberal Party has campaigned for it since 1993. More recently, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called on the federal government to provide $12 billion to fund the policy and the Liberal Party pledged it would establish universal daycare in its 2021 budget.
Utopian dreams of equality
“Without universal access to affordable, high-quality childcare, women’s equality will never be realized,” writes Leslie Gavel for the Toronto Star. In one sense, she’s right: men and women aren’t the same and never will be. Universal daycare is a social-engineering ploy to incentivize women to be more like men and, ahem, expand the tax base.
Sugar-coated rhetoric aside, proponents can’t change one fact: universal daycare is a taxpayer-funded transfer away from traditional, single-income households to dual-income households. Insofar as they rely on government assistance, the latter are participating in a charade that outsourcing childcare is more financially prudent than the love and attention of one’s own mother.
Few activities are more important and influential than nurturing the next generation and the one-size-fits-all approach of universal childcare means formal professionals receive funding, but stay-at-home mothers don’t. Families that decline and take care of their children themselves still pay the taxes for a program they don’t use. The message to homemakers is a slap in the face: hand over your children and enter the workforce if you want funding.
That’s what mothers did when Quebec instituted the policy in 1997 and the childcare record relative to biological parents has been catastrophic. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that “universal childcare hurt children and families.” Keep in mind that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says a federal program would follow Quebec’s prototype as part of her “feminist agenda.”
Participating Quebecois families became strained with more hostile and less consistent parenting, worse parental mental health and lower relationship satisfaction for mothers. The NBER findings suggest this policy resulted in a 60 to 150 per cent rise in anxiety for participating children and an eight to 20 per cent decline in motor and social skills – all at $9,000 per child.
The shepherding of children into daycare is also a government encroachment into this sensitive space, given inevitable licensing and cartelization. That’s why support for it is a clear dividing line between those who favour parental authority and those who favour governmental authority.
Dollars in their eyes
A report from the progressive Centre for Future Work found that the policy could generate $17 billion to $29 billion in annual tax revenues from increased labour-force participation and an expanded childcare system. The centre’s founder Jim Stanford doesn’t hide the centre’s agenda and describes it as “activist research” empowering unions and workers.
He and his team are blind to their bias that more tax revenues are something to celebrate – yay! To those struggling under Canada’s burgeoning and complicated tax system, this isn’t a laughing matter. The gall of such social engineers demonstrates how disconnected they are from the challenges of stay-at-home mothers and traditional families.
Appeals to higher gross domestic product rates are also misleading and demeaning, as though informal labour doesn’t have value. A home-cooked meal’s value is hard to quantify and doesn’t boost GDP, but it’s a win for health relative to eating out. Many examples fit this archetype and are particularly well known to progressive economists. In 1992 with The Growth Illusion, Richard Douthwaite documented GDP’s shortcomings as a comprehensive measure of well-being.
Childcare for those who want
Even if universal childcare should be a non-starter, that doesn’t preclude private use, with providers accountable to parents and not government officials. In this context, parents have legitimate complaints about high prices stemming from barriers to entry. The average monthly cost of preschool childcare is $1,207 in Toronto, $954 in Vancouver, $861 in Halifax and $875 in Edmonton.
The effective solution to high prices is deregulation, coupled with transparency and effective prosecution of bad actors. Mercatus Institute research has shown that regulations on group size and child-to-employee ratios have driven up the price of childcare significantly without any improvement in quality.
In Ontario, for example, childcare providers with more than two children under the age of two or five children over the age of two must register with the province and pass health and safety inspections. Ensuring facilities and workers jump through the hoops is a long process that discourages providers from entering the market.
With those barriers out of the way and the rise of peer-to-peer platforms, Canada could have a more price-competitive, secure and consumer-oriented market. Startups such as WeeCare and MyVillage are revolutionizing the childcare industry with their home-based model.
These online platforms raise transparency, match parents with caregivers, provide reviews and help individuals start their own preschool programs.
Traditional and non-traditional families alike should be free to use childcare when it suits their needs, with neither prodding nor roadblocks from the government.
Caitlin Rose Morgante is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Boston University economics student and an Econ Americas intern.
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