Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The benefit analysis

The Caledon Institute for Social Policy makes its case to have the Cons look at boosting the Child Tax Benefit rather than trying to implement its "child-card program" as planned:
The (Cons') proposed child-care allowance favours one-earner couples over single parents and two-earner couples. One-earner couples do well at higher income levels, and better than modest- and middle-income single parents and two-earner couples.

But families with modest incomes, in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, are especially penalized by the taxback on other benefits. Only at very low income levels do all types of families get close to the advertised $1,200...

Luckily, there is a straightforward solution: Ottawa should deliver the allowance through the tried and true Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB).

The maximum CCTB for a young child will reach $3,426 this July. Adding $1,200 to the CCTB would boost this amount to $4,626 - close to the $5,000 target for an adequate child benefit. The full amount of the allowance would really go to all families -- single parents and one-earner and two-earner couples -- with incomes less than $100,000, with gradually diminishing payments above that level...

The child-care allowance will never be a substitute for a solid, high-quality, child-care system, but it can at least be transformed into a sensible and equitable child benefit that will reduce child poverty and help families meet the costs of raising their children. Delivering the allowance through the Canada Child Tax Benefit will be more faithful to the Conservatives' promise of $1,200 a child under 6 than stealthily taxing much of it away for the families who need it most.
It's tough to argue with the article's reasoning, and for that reason one would think that a public debate on child care would tend toward the CCTB as a compromise measure. But there may be only one way to get to that result from the status quo...and it'll depend on Harper's government making the first move.

The problem is that given the Cons' insistence that their plan is really a child-care measure rather than a tax cut, both national opposition parties have plenty of reason to criticize the absence of any new child-care spaces (or reasonable expectation thereof). And in turn, if either of them took the step of publicly proposing a plan based solely on the CCTB, the other would get plenty of mileage criticizing the failure to propose any answer to actual child care needs. Supporting a perceived compromise may be another story, but neither opposition party can afford to stick its neck out if a deal is anything short of certain...lest that party be left subject to attack from both sides.

That leaves the possibility of the Cons making the first move toward a CCTB-based benefit. And it's here that we'll really see to what extent the Cons are determined to engage in social engineering by offering disproportionate benefits to families with stay-at-home parents.

It's not unrealistic to think that one of the opposition parties (most likely the Libs given the NDP's public commitment to introducing federal child care legislation in Parliament) could play along with a CCTB-based benefit once the Cons take the first step. But it'll be up to Harper to demonstrate first that he's willing to work toward better policy even if his socon supporters don't approve. And if he won't, then the result will either be a benefit which is wide open for justified criticism during the next election, or a failure to pass any child-care measure at all.

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