Christmas in July or lump of coal?
Universal Child Care Benefit will buy a lot more beer and popcorn
Canadian parents have been digging out their holiday stockings this week, looking to see how much Ottawa’s “Christmas in July” ploy has delivered to their households.
For that is what federal Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre termed the lump sum payment in a series of tweets promoting the topped up Universal Child Care Benefit.
You remember the UCCB. It was handed out to Canadian parents of children aged six and younger when the Conservatives came to power in 2006.
In that year’s election campaign, the Liberals promised a national childcare plan. The Conservatives came back with a $100 a month cheque to parents of young children, which recipients could spend any way they saw fit. In an ill-advised retort, Liberal spokesman noted parents could blow the UCCB cheques on “beer and popcorn” instead of on their children. He was forced to apologize.
Now with another election looming that $100 cheque has been increased to $160 per child younger than six. Parents of children between six and 17 also get to cash in on the UCCB, at $60 a month. This top-up is retroactive to January, meaning the cheques parents got this month are as high as $520 for preschoolers and $420 for every child six to 17.
The timing of these lump sum payments certainly smacks of vote buying as all political candidates are spending the summer in their ridings, rustling up support for the October federal election. Especially since Mr. Poilievre made the announcement this week in Halifax while wearing a bright blue shirt bearing the Conservative logo. But what are Canadian families getting from this initiative?
The $60 extra per child does not apply equally to all parents, when the child tax credit is factored in. This affects families with higher incomes. They may receive a cheque for a few hundred dollars now, but they may owe half that back to the government come income tax filing time.
Still, this way of delivering money to families with children works better for some lower income families.
And these are the children we all want to see benefit the most.
Too often we hear of measures that end up benefitting those in the highest tax brackets so it’s nice this one seems to take from the rich and give to the poor.
As well, having the money coming in once a month helps some parents plan better. If they know they are getting a set amount of money once a month, they can put those dollars directly towards something for their child: afterschool programs; music lessons; school lunches. It’s hard to argue against that. What the UCCB doesn’t address, though, is the enormous cost of child care.
Moms and dads who are spending tens of thousands of dollars a year to have their children cared for note that the $1,200 extra a year (or less) is not even a drop in the bucket.
That amount certainly won’t lure a person who is sitting on the fence about whether he or she should go back to work or stay home until the little ones are in school.
Also of note is when the $100 UCCB was first introduced in 2006, many day cares immediately raised their rates by — you guessed it — $100 a month. There’s nothing stopping those facilities from raising their rates another $60 now.
Santa and the Conservatives will have to wait until October to see if voters decided to keep the expanded UCCB or are looking for an exchange.