Robyn Benson, PSAC

Harper's child benefit: bribing Canadians with their own money

The $7 million was bad enough. That was money handed out by the Harper government to help municipalities celebrate Canada Day, but most of it seems to have ended up in Conservative ridings or ridings where the Conservatives have a shot at winning in the upcoming federal election.

But that was chump change compared to the cost of the cheques now arriving in mailboxes for the Universal Child Care Benefit. We’re talking $3 billion here. Your money and mine. A small monthly increase in the UCCB all bundled up in one six-month retroactive payout. A few weeks before the federal election.

But before getting into the many things wrong with the UCCB, enhanced or not, let’s start with where that money is going. Yup, you guessed it. Mostly Conservative-friendly suburban ridings. Once again, Harper’s supporters are being rewarded. And, judging by his poor standing in the polls, it’s clear that Harper wants to keep them in the fold.

Back to the UCCB itself, though. It’s meant to be the Conservative answer to a universal childcare program, “designed to help Canadian families, as they try to balance work and family life, by supporting their child care choices through direct financial support.” It was created when Harper first took office in 2006, after he abruptly cancelled the federal child care agreements with the provinces that promised to create badly-needed quality child care spaces across Canada.

At first, it was $100 per month for children under six. (Try to purchase a month of childcare with that.)

Now it’s risen to $160 for those children, and $60 per month will now be paid to families with dependants between the ages of 6 and 17. It’s taxable, however, and the abolition of the Child Tax Credit at the same time makes this “benefit” substantially less than it appears.

The main problem, though, is that the cash to families does not get them one bit closer to affordable quality child care. In fact, the so-called Universal Child Care Benefit has nothing at all to do with child care. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, more than half of the recipients this year don’t have childcare costs to begin with. Even Harper himself will get a cheque.

The sheer cynicism here is maddening. Families are in desperate need of child care. Instead of creating spaces, the Harper government puts in place a child care benefit that goes mostly to people who don’t need it.

And now we have the spectacle of Employment and Social Development Minister Pierre Poilievre trotting around the country allegedly trying to find 200,000 “missing families” who aren’t getting their slice of this electoral pie. So far, it appears he hasn’t had much luck tracking them down. But it’s a great pre-election news story. And his visits have almost invariably been to places where the Conservative vote needs shoring up.

This October 19, think about the alternatives: a taxable benefit that won’t create a single child care space versus a national childcare system. Seems to me that’s one of the easier choices facing Canadian working families today.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on July 23, 2015 8:00 AM.

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