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We could have our daycare cake, and eat it too [CA]

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Stanford, Jim
Publication Date: 
14 Mar 2006

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Canadian women - individually and collectively - will be the key players in the first major legislative contest facing Stephen Harper's minority government: the battle over national child care.

After two decades of stalled progress and unfulfilled promises, the previous Liberal minority (pushed by the NDP and the Bloc Québécois) finally cobbled together a national child-care program, based initially on bilateral funding deals with the provinces.

The Conservatives, however, promised to dismantle the nascent program in favour of a reincarnated baby bonus: $100 per month (taxable) for each child under six. Cash-strapped parents will welcome the money. But it will do absolutely nothing to create quality child-care spaces.

The government has already announced it will abolish the bilateral funding (even those agreements signed for five years) next spring.

The opposition parties, however, all support the national program (the Bloc on condition that Quebec retains autonomy over standards). Together, they won 58 per cent of the popular vote in January, compared to 36 per cent for the Conservatives, and hold 183 seats, compared to 125 held by the Conservatives. In a minority Parliament, they clearly have the power to prevent Mr. Harper from destroying the new national system. And in doing so, they would be acting completely consistently with the expressed preferences of Canadians.

Fiscally, Ottawa can easily afford both the Conservatives' baby bonus (worth something over $1.5-billion per year, net of taxes collected) and continuing federal contributions to the national program (worth another $1-billion per year). In that regard, we could have our daycare cake, and eat it, too.

Unfortunately, it won't be that simple. Nobody wants another election, of course (we didn't want one last Christmas either), and Mr. Harper will use this to play chicken &emdash; governing as if he actually won a majority.

That's where Canadian women must step up to the podium, with their passion and activism. They can press Mr. Harper hard, but also the opposition parties, by quickly mobilizing a grassroots campaign to save the child-care program. The Conservatives must be challenged to continue the funding. The opposition parties, for their part, must be pushed to be ready to defeat the Harper government, if it refuses.

The movement is circulating an open letter to defend the national program, lobbying the provinces to draw a line in the sand over the issue, and organizing rallies and demonstrations (including on Mother's Day) to show both the Conservatives and the opposition parties that they'll pay a price if the new program collapses.

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