Christ­mas in July or lump of coal?

Uni­ver­sal Child Care Ben­e­fit will buy a lot more beer and pop­corn

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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