Balancing work and family is difficult and costly for many Canadians, but things could be made much better with the right support in place. In this federal election, the national political parties are proposing very different approaches to helping parents and children.
High-quality public childcare program
Both the Green Party and the New Democratic Party have pledged to fully fund a universal childcare program. The NDP has promised 500,000 new child care spaces for children up to the age of 12 and significantly lower parent fees. As well, the NDP has committed to tackling the problem of the very low wages paid to those who work in child care.
The Liberals are proposing to build on their 2017 budget promise of $7.5 billion for early learning and child care stretched over 11 years. In this election, they propose to double annual transfers to the provinces and territories so that 250,000 new child care spaces for school-age children can be created. However, the Liberals have made no new promises for younger age groups even though childcare for infants, toddlers and preschools is hardest to find and the most expensive.
While in office, the Harper Conservatives scrapped the plan to create a national child care system and brought in the Universal Child Care Benefit that ended being a minimal allowance far below the cost of child care. In this current election, the Conservatives have barely said a word about child care.
“As it stands now the majority of parents in the paid labour force or in school must rely on a patchwork of largely unregulated childcare, with no guarantee of quality,” said Chris Aylward, National President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. “PSAC is urging all parties to commit to a universal, affordable and accessible childcare system for all Canadians.”
Equitable and universal parental benefits
The Liberal Party and the Conservative Party have promised to change how maternity and parental Employment Insurance benefits are taxed. The Liberals say they will no longer deduct income tax at source; the Conservatives say they will put in place a refundable tax credit that would give some parents some money back on the taxes deducted from the maternity or parental benefit cheques. Neither of these tax proposals address the biggest problems with maternity and parental benefits, though. Currently large numbers of new parents, especially new mothers, are not eligible for EI because they haven’t worked enough hours to qualify. Also, many who do qualify can’t afford to take the leave from work to collect the benefits because the EI program doesn’t give them enough of an income to survive.
The New Democratic Party is trying to solve the problem of income by allowing parents to take shorter parental leave at a higher salary replacement rate. This should help Canadians who can’t afford to live on just 33 percent of their salary for 18 months. Also, they want to allow self-employed workers to opt-into parental benefits at any time before taking the leave.
The Green Party wants to improve maternity and parental leave by making it more inclusive, more flexible and better paid, but have not specified how.
“We need universal parental benefits that are equitable,” said Aylward. “All parents should be entitled to take paid leave from work and receive a decent level of income after the birth or adoption of a child.”