December 14, 2005

Beer and skittles

As I sit here, eating bonbons and painting my toenails, I continue to contemplate the weekend's comments of the Liberal Party's communication aide, Scott Reid, adding his two cents to the election campaign (we lucky Canadians don't have to worry about the Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays fuss since we get think about which prime ministerial candidate we want on the doorstep or down the chimney this month).

Several days ago the Conservative party made the election promise of $100 a month to families for each child under the age of six, ostensibly for daycare provisions, which is rather nice because, unlike all of the parties' plans for some form of national, institutionalized daycare (don't get me started), the Conservatives of course assume that some parents might be staying home with their children. An amount like $1,200 isn't an overly big amount, certainly not enough to make up for any job outside the home I might have, but, as Tom likes to say, it's better than a poke in the eye with a short stick. And it assumes that Tom and I might have some inkling about what's best for our own kids, which by the way is a large part of why we home school.

Then, just when I'm thinking that this campaign promise sounds pretty nifty if it ever comes to fruition (several pretty big ifs involved), along comes a top Liberal (and I can't tell you how it rankles to have that word abused on such a regular, capitalized basis) aide who insults Canadian parents across the country by sneering, "Don't give them $25 to blow on beer and popcorn." Beer and popcorn, eh?

As The Globe & Mail wrote, "This off-the-shelf insult was more than just a political gaffe. It points to an important philosophical divide between [Conservative Leader Stephen] Harper and Liberal Leader Paul Martin." The difference is this -- the Conservatives assume that Canadian parents are entitled to a choice. The Liberals on the other hand, assume, as The Globe & Mail continues,
that there is a right and a wrong choice. The right choice is the one that the Liberal Party supports. To be fair, many Canadians support that choice. But in the Liberal program, it is one choice at the expense of others.

This was exactly the point Mr. Harper had hoped to make. He was offering recognition to those who feel shafted by a tax system that renders it almost prohibitively expensive to have a parent stay at home with the children....

At best, Mr. Reid's comment -- later amplified by Martin adviser John Duffy, who said the money might buy beer, popcorn, a car or a coat -- suggests he is simply missing the point about choice in child care. The biggest cost to families with a stay-at-home parent is the forgone income. Stay-at-home parents do not need to use the $100-a-month allowance to purchase a program of some sort; their presence in the home is the program. Put another way, the formal child-care programs are a substitute for the parent who stays home to rear her children. Mr. Reid seems to feel it's the other way round.

At worst, Mr. Reid's comment suggests that, as welfare mothers were to [former Ontario Premier Mike] Harris, stay-at-home mothers are to him. They are an unprotected target. Stay-at-home mothers are, in this interpretation, today's welfare mothers. They are not making a contribution. They will not get with the program. It is safe to ridicule them on national television.

Mr. Harper started a debate, but it was Mr. Reid (and Mr. Duffy) who touched a nerve. At least it can be said that, on child care, the two parties offer a clear choice.

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