“Finally, we get something out of that kid!” I joke while opening the brown envelop from the Canada Revenue Agency. I already know what’s inside: a cheque for $300—the exact amount for three instalments of the new Universal Child Care Benefit. Or, as well call it at home, diaper and formula money.
This is the first time ever I get some kind of financial help from the Canadian government and it feels weird. I shrug the feeling off. It’s not my money, it’s Mark’s.
After Mark was born, I applied online for the 4-in-1 Newborn Bundle, an efficient newborn registration service from the Government of Ontario. I registered Mark’s birth in just a few clicks (and amazingly, I got it right, even though I was barely awake when I did it!) and applied for his birth certificate and social insurance number.
I was also given the option to apply for Canada Child Benefits, including the Universal Child Care Benefit, a monthly payment of $100 per eligible child under the age of 6 years. “Sure, why not?” I thought. “May as well!”
I hadn’t done much research on the financial aspect of having a child in Canada. All I knew was that a as a newly established freelancer, I wasn’t eligible for the one-year maternity leave. It sucked but we figured we would manage, like we always do.
As a French, I was used to the government’s generosity. Europe may be broke but most citizens enjoy various great social perks: baby bonus, maternity benefit, family allowance, housing benefit, scholarships, government programs—a long list of benefits French value and fought for. This is not to say that French are lazy bums living off the state. It’s just that in Europe, the social welfare system plays a big role in people’s life and a generous protection system is part of the landscape.
I have never expected the same kind of social safety net in Canada. In North America, free market is king and even though Canada has much better social protections than America, people are still left fending for themselves. I am thankful for Canada’s healthcare system—I can’t imagine living in the U.S and having to fight for universal healthcare. And we do have a social protection net, with programs such as Ontario Works, the provincial social assistance program, or Employment Insurance. Whenever I travel, I also buy a good travel insurance primer, just for peace of mind.
But I have never claimed social benefits since I came to Canada. Over the years, I did pay premiums into my Employment Insurance Account and I could have applied for it a couple of times, including when work was slow or non-existent at the school when I taught French. So why didn’t I take advantage of it? I’m not sure. Part of it was stupid pride—I thought Canada was pretty nice to welcome me as a permanent resident and that I should “prove” myself. Part of it was because Employment Insurance benefits were a hassle to apply for and it wasn’t much money in the first place—putting money aside for rainy days was an easier solution.
All in all, over the years, the only money I received directly from the government was the GST Credit (about $50 four times a year). And that’s only because I applied automatically when filing my income tax return.
Now, we will receive the monthly $100 Universal Child Care Benefit payment, plus the Canada child tax benefit. Mind you, getting these benefits was a real hassle. I signed up for them when registering Mark’s birth but the process was far from being smooth. I received no less than four letters from the Canada Revenue Agency asking all kind of questions, including our respective dates of landing in Canada (?), as well as a complete recap of our immigration status. I found it strange since we both have been Canadian citizens for years and we have been filing tax income returns regularly. Eventually, I spent an hour over the phone with an employee to figure everything out and ta-da! Three months later, the benefits finally arrived.
The money goes into a piggy bank and we are using it for diapers, formula, etc. After all, the point of this benefit is to help us with the cost of raising a baby dragon.
So far, I don’t find babies as expensive as everyone says. I guess we didn’t go overboard with baby items—we only bought what we truly needed and didn’t give in in the perfect nursery dream. We buy diapers and formula in bulk whenever we find good deals and I use coupons when available. After all, a baby needs mommy and daddy’s love (and plenty of cuddles!) more than anything else.
And for the rest… well, there will be the government’s diaper and formula money.