We Need a Moratorium on Paul Martin’s National Childcare Program

With Sweden’s vaunted universal daycare system showing such serious cracks that both its own Education Ministry has criticized it and a growing grass roots movement in that country has formed to oppose it, we have the perfect opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes. For that reason, along with the knowledge that there are no long term studies telling us that universal daycare is a ‘good thing’ and because the reasons for its implementation have more to do with the GDP than with helping families, we are demanding that a moratorium be placed on this program until further investigation takes place.

The studies that daycare advocates and the government use to convince Canadians there is a need for this program are problematic for three reasons. The first concern is that erroneous conclusions are drawn from studies cited. Examples are the half day American Head Start ‘nursery’ program which they use to justify 10 to 13 hour a day, 50 week a year daycare or the Carolina Abecedarian Project (where children of desperately impoverished mothers with very low IQs were all but re-parented) which is used to tell us that ‘professional’ daycare could be of benefit to the average Canadian child.

A second problem with these studies is that they focus disproportionately on so-called ‘academic achievement’ while ignoring evidence of serious emotional drawbacks for children when they spend such little time with their parents. The third and most glaring deficiency is that there has never been a longitudinal control study done to measure the comparison between ‘best practices’ in home and parent care with that of government funded daycare.

Why would the federal government try to sell us a program with such dubious data attached to it? What is the rationale behind it? There is ample proof that this program is being implemented in such a way as to create the ‘need’, where currently none exists, and that it is for purposes of GDP growth, not for a direct improvement in the lives of Canadian families.

Almost half of Canada’s young children are still cared for primarily by their parents, only 13% are in a daycare setting and Canadian children who are looked after by someone other than their parents receive, on average, only 27 hours of outside care. (The number in daycare would be lower if it weren’t for the high numbers reported by Quebec where parents of all incomes are permitted to drop their children off at $7/day daycare, whether there is a parent at home or not.)

It is not as if parents across Canada are asking for more daycare: these care arrangements closely correspond to the wishes of Canadians, according to a recent report put out by the ideologically neutral Vanier Institute of the Family. Furthermore, the oft-quoted, ‘70% of mothers of young children are in the paid workforce’ argument is misleading as that number includes every woman who during the survey week reported doing even a minimal amount of paid work, including that defined as casual – there is no evidence that these families wanted, needed or asked for 3rd party daycare.

And yet, the government tells us that we need to erect a large scale, government run and controlled system of full-time care for children. Why? Apparently because the economy needs to have these women in the paid labour force. Canadian economists Gordon Cleveland and Michael Krashinsky, two of the most ardent advocates of universal daycare and the creators of the ubiquitous ‘$2 for $1’childcare slogan, state that because of the loss to the GDP, “it costs too much not to have these (mothers of young children) working.” And, leading British Columbia daycare advocate, Sharon Gregson states, “Our economic system depends on women working and paying taxes.”

And it is not just young mothers who have to stop being such slouches – little kids are expected to start pulling their weight as well: Paul Martin delivered a speech on September 21 in which he made it abundantly clear that his ‘early learning’ program was anything but child’s play. Rather, it is about developing the ‘human capital’ necessary to compete in the new global economy.

If a parent opts out of this ‘planned society’, it is at their own expense. In Quebec it was reported that 72 percent of families received less financial assistance from the government after universal daycare was brought in. The only way a family receives full and equal benefits is by dropping their child off at a state controlled daycare. In short, families are discriminated against financially if they want to care for their children themselves.

It is this very point that parents in Sweden find most troubling: Christer Westerlund, chairperson of the aptly named Swedish movement, “The Child’s Right to their Parent’s Time”, states that because of the exorbitantly high taxes needed to fund such programs, “there is virtually no way a middle class family can have a parent caring for their own child without having them live below the poverty line.” (Ironically, Swedish economists recognize that due to this high rate of taxation, their economy would be far better off without publicly funded universal daycare.)

Those of us in the growing parent choice movement represent families who use the full spectrum of care options, including daycare. Our vision is of a Canada where each and every parent is empowered to make the choices that best suit their family’s needs, whether they look after their child themselves or have someone else providing care. What we don’t want is the restructuring of the economy in such a way that all but a privileged few will be required to place their children in whatever universal form of childcare the government controls. Because of this, we are calling for nothing short of a moratorium on Paul Martin’s National Childcare Program.


By: Kate Tennier – founder, Advocates for Childcare HChoice

Helen Ward – President, Kids First Parents Association

With Yvonne Coupal, founder of Les Citoyen (ne)s En Faveur de l’Equité Fiscale des Subventions pour Soins de Garde Pour Tous les Enfants, Bev Smith, activist for the rights of care givers and ## additional signatures.