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Childcare is Way Too Expensive in Canada

Mark Going to School, Ottawa, November 2014

Dear Canada, I’m a bit mad at you. Maybe I’m overreacting, maybe it’s just a misunderstanding. Either way, I wanted to let you know.

The race for the 2015 federal election has started. Last week, Harper’s government revisited the child benefits package in a campaign-style event. Yes, it’s time to fish for a large group of potential supporters—the proverbial 2.4 children families.

So, here is the big news—the government boosted the universal childcare benefit to $160 a month per child up to age six (from the current $100 per month) and is introducing a credit of $60 per month for children aged six to 17 years. The new benefits go into effect on January 1, 2015, and the first payments will start in July.

That means every Canadian family with children under 18 is set to receive the retroactive payment of $420 per child just three months ahead of the next election, plus regular $60 monthly cheques as the campaign nears.

Free money, yay! Isn’t it great?

Yeah, right.

This is wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to start. Okay, maybe with the fact that Canada, a great place to live in, a developed country leading in many areas, lags shockingly behind in terms of affordable childcare. Excepted in Quebec where subsidized daycare centres exist (if you can find a spot), childcare costs are among the highest in the world. Canada does not have a national childcare system. Daily fees start around $40-$60 per day and per child, even more in large cities. Spaces in licensed daycare centres are hard to secure and for-profit centres are growing at an alarming rate.

So instead of subsidizing early learning and care, Harper hands out a monthly direct payment to parents.

Take our example. There is a reason why Mark only started daycare at two years old. For our household, the child benefit package is currently $204.95 per month. Daycare is a monthly $1,400 cheque. Harper’s money basically barely covers a couple of nights of babysitting.

It’s a bit like leaving a five-dollar tip on a 200-dollar bill at the restaurant, isn’t it?

It’s insulting.

So why are the Conservatives stalling the implementation of a proper daycare system? Because it’s easier to play the guilt card: it’s not right when “parents are forced to have other people raise their children.”

Someone, please, explain to the Conservatives that daycare services are not a fucking alien abduction.

I need affordable daycare, not a guilt trip.

Look, I didn’t mind the fact hospitals kick you out with a newborn just 24 hours after birth. I welcomed the phone call I received two days later, asking me if everything was alright, even though I was too tired then to follow the conversation.

I did mind the fact that after that, I was left all alone.

Look, I got it. I’m a parent, Mark is our responsibility.

Still, I would have loved some help, and there wasn’t much available.

As babies grow into toddlers and then preschoolers, they need more and more activities and more and more social interaction. They don’t just nap and sit around. As I discovered, a mother’s love isn’t enough. They want to play, go out, see new places, try new toys, learn stuff.

Without outside help, parents have to be more than parents—they have to be childhood educators. This is a bit like asking a Mini owner to be a Formula 1 race driver.

I didn’t know that. I learned.

It’s hard to take care of a kid all day long, day after day, week after week, without a break. This is a full-time job. You need places to go to, things to do.

Look, maybe I didn’t do it right. I’m not the most social person, and maybe I didn’t look hard enough for playgroups, kid activities and all. Plus I was working while caring for Mark at home. But I tried.

The reality is, we live in a country where:

  • Everything is very spread out and distances are huge, so you need access to a car to get around. Not everyone has a car or a licence, not every household has two cars and the public transportation system is limited. So doing activity A for an hour, then going to B for another hour may not be easy or practical.
  • Winter is brutal, and it’s not fun or reasonable to be playing outside for three to five months per year. My life became way more difficult when it gets too cold to strap Mark in the stroller and head out for a walk or to the park.
  • Few people have close family around to help out. It’s a given for us, immigrants—unless you bring the grand-parents, you’re on your own. And even born-and-raised Canadians don’t necessarily live close to their families.

In light of these facts, offering affordable daycare just makes sense. I understand that there are parents who would rather opt out and stay home with their kid(s). This is fine. It’s all about having a choice. Not every household can live on a single salary, and not every mother (or father!) wants to stop working to care for the kids at home. I know I didn’t. I love Mark, and I love being a mother, but I also enjoy having a job and a life.

Early childhood education matters and it does take a village to raise a child. At daycare, Mark learns to share, wait, respect and appreciate other people than immediate family members. He has access to tons of educational toys. He does activities I would never organize at home (what parent wants to clean up glitter paint??). He has somewhere to go during the day, somewhere way more fun than pacing the mall with mom.

I’m not giving up as a parent, I’m not letting strangers raise my kid. I’m giving Mark the opportunity to learn to live in society, to acquire life skills.

And I wish our country would make these kinds of opportunities easier and cheaper.

There is hope, though. Apparently, the New Democrats announced a $15-a-day childcare plan earlier this month as part of an ambitious plan to create or maintain a million affordable daycare spaces across the country.

Well, I guess I know who I will be voting for…

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