MOULTON: No room for national childcare on the next generation’s credit card

By: Jasmine Moulton (@moulton_jasmine)

The federal government’s economic statement contains the word “child” 238 times, but it doesn’t include a serious plan to reduce the national credit card bill our kids and grandkids will be stuck paying.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is spending $1.8 billion per day. That’s more than $20,000 per second. The national debt is about to surpass $1 trillion, and by next year it will have doubled since Trudeau became prime minister in 2015. Doubled.  

While some increased health-care spending during a pandemic is reasonable, much of Trudeau’s spending has been unrelated to the health and economic crises, such as raises for MPs or corporate welfare handouts to multi-national corporations such as the Ford Motor Company. Worse, this government is using the pandemic to double down on expensive pre-pandemic plans, such as its national childcare plan.

While it may sound nice in principle, national childcare is a bad plan. The federal government is dangling Quebec’s childcare system in front of beleaguered parents across the rest of Canada. Those parents should be wary.

Firstly, nothing is “free.” Taxpayers always foot the bill. And Quebec’s childcare system is anything but cheap. The initial cost was estimated to be $250 million per year when the program was introduced in 1997. This year, it cost $2.7 billion. Despite the massive price tag, Quebec’s childcare system is still plagued with problems of access and wait times.

Quebec also has the advantage of hefty equalization payments. It received $13.1 billion in equalization last year, which helped the province to run a surplus in 2019 for the fifth consecutive year. It’s difficult to imagine how Ottawa or any of the provinces running massive deficits this year could afford such a program.

But the Trudeau government has a history of replicating failed provincial policies on a national scale. Its carbon tax is modelled on the unsuccessful policy from British Columbia. Emissions increased in that province by over four million tonnes or 6%  in the 10 years it had a carbon tax before Trudeau introduced his in 2018.

Policies should be based on examples that actually work, so it should worry everyone that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told Parliament: “British Columbia showed Canada the way on pricing pollution [and] Quebec can show us the way on childcare.”

It’s true that childcare responsibilities disproportionately fell on women during the pandemic, and “employment among women with toddlers or school-aged children fell 7% from February to May, compared to 4% among men,” according to a report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.  

But a national childcare program wouldn’t have changed that. Only 5%  of parents with young children used childcare services both during and after childcare closures in the pandemic, according to Statistics Canada. That rate remained constant across Ontario and Quebec – the province which the feds want to model their program on.

About 25% of parents said they won’t be sending their kids back to childcare and the vast majority said they made that decision due to health concerns for their kids or household, because they no longer needed childcare, or because they have friends or family to watch the kids.

Only 6% of that group said that the reason they won’t be sending their kids back to childcare is because they can no longer afford it.

Obviously, there are more efficient ways to target help to those parents rather than building a huge, deficit-financed, one-size-fits-all government daycare system.

Children born today will already owe almost $26,000 each as their individual portion of the federal debt. Ultimately, a deficit-fueled daycare will stick those children with their own daycare bills, plus interest. That’s wrong. Instead of dreaming up expensive new programs, Trudeau needs to limit spending to where it’s needed to stop Canada’s debt from spiralling out of control.

Jasmine Moulton is the Ontario Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

We’re asking readers, like you, to make a contribution in support of True North’s fact-based, independent journalism.

Unlike the mainstream media, True North isn’t getting a government bailout. Instead, we depend on the generosity of Canadians like you.

How can a media outlet be trusted to remain neutral and fair if they’re beneficiaries of a government handout? We don’t think they can.

This is why independent media in Canada is more important than ever. If you’re able, please make a tax-deductible donation to True North today. Thank you so much.