Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/7/2015 (1521 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Sometime before the end of this month, 24 Sussex Drive will get a special delivery.
A government cheque for $360.
Ostensibly the money is so Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, can help pay for child care for their daughter Rachel.
Rachel, it should probably be noted here, is 16.
She, along with every Canadian kid between six and 17, are now eligible for the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) and their parents will get cheques (or direct deposits) for $60 a month. Kids under six will get $160 a month, up from $100.
This month’s cheque is a little bigger because it is back pay for the first six months of the year plus the July payment.
Maybe the Harpers will spend the money on driving lessons for their youngest child. Or maybe they will sock it away in an RESP. Or maybe they will give it directly to her to spend as she sees fit.
Regardless, it’s almost a certainty there is one thing it won’t be spent on.
In fact, as many as half of the kids who will receive payments under the UCCB this year don’t need child care because they are too old.
Which belies the very notion that the benefit has anything to do with child care at all.
The government admitted as much earlier this week when it sent Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre to the kid’s department at a downtown Ottawa Giant Tiger store to wax poetic about the expanded benefit and how good it will be for Canada’s faltering economy.
"This $3-billion injection into the mailboxes and bank accounts of Canadians comes at a perfect time to support not only our families, but our retailers, as they generate thousands of jobs for Canadians," he said.
What could be better for a government looking to get re-elected when it is suddenly facing an economic downturn and the prospect of entering an election during a recession?
If there was a letter accompanying the cheque it could rightly read, "Dear Parents; Here is your cash. Now please remember to vote Conservative on election day."
Make no mistake: the Conservatives will tell anyone who will listen their opponents will eliminate the UCCB if given the chance. (That isn’t entirely true, because the NDP plan to keep it and add to it with a national universal $15 a day child care program. The Liberals, meanwhile, are morphing it into the Canada Child Benefit, which is an income-based payment program for people with kids.)
The Conservatives have touted the UCCB as a choice in child care for parents for seven years. The difference between giving parents cash directly to pay for what is already available, or having the government develop new programs with set costs for parents subsidized by the government, like what is already done in Quebec.
Candice Bergen, minister of state for social development, sat down with me earlier this year to talk about the UCCB and she said repeatedly the Conservatives understand parents want a range of options, whether that is a daycare centre, a live-in nanny or a stay-at-home parent.
It sounds well and good, but the UCCB is a very expensive program with no evidence it does anything at all to help parents afford their choice. How many families have been able to keep a parent at home instead, or could put their child in a private, high-quality early education centre because of the UCCB? How many new spaces were created because of the demand from all this extra money?
You have to know that a government that prides itself on marketing would be promoting any studies that showed the impact of the UCCB. They aren’t — because there aren’t any.
And in essence all the Conservatives are doing is taking in tax dollars, taking some off the top for administration and then sending some of that money back to taxpayers for the UCCB. And they aren’t done yet, because the UCCB is taxable so Canadian parents end up sending some of it again back to Ottawa when they file their taxes.
It is a hallmark of inefficiency with a bargain basement price tag of just $8 billion a year.
In 2006, the Liberals got in hot water for critiquing the UCCB during the election as "beer and popcorn" money for families. It’s a flub that lives on in political commentary to this day, but in many ways, Poilievre confirmed that to be the case this week when he suggested parents should use it to go shopping.
And at the end of the day, other than some political spin and a debate between political foes, Canadians are left with little to show for it. Except now maybe some retail therapy for parents.
Mia Rabson is the Free Press parliamentary bureau chief.
Updated on Thursday, July 16, 2015 at 3:52 PM CDT: Corrects timing of cheque delivery.
6:20 PM: Edits end-story formatting