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Daycare: will there ever be a better choice?

For a few short months after the Conservatives swept into power in 2006, I, along with hundreds of thousands of other Canadian parents, was the lucky recipient of the PC solution to daycare. A $100 cheque each month that would enable me to make better choices about my son’s daycare.


And what did I spend that whopping $100 bucks on? Swimming lessons? A day trip to Ontario Place? Or maybe I was a tiny bit selfish and splurged on a new pair of Fluevog’s (on sale of course!). As truth would have it, I don’t even remember now.

The sad fact is that $100 dollars really doesn’t offer much for parents who don’t have a choice about daycare. I was a single parent when I returned to work exactly sixteen weeks after my son was born. I spent a few very stressful months looking for infant daycare and was shocked to discover that his monthly daycare costs exceeded my mortgage payments. I considered myself lucky because I have a nice, comfortable union job (thanks, CMG) and, although I had to seriously cut back on the cafe-lattes and fancy footwear, I could afford it.

But what about other parents who don’t make as much money, or work from contract to contract? If you’re not working for a few weeks – or months – the financial burden of keeping your child in private daycare will put you in the poor house. But if you pull your child out of the program, he/she won’t have a spot when you return to work.

The amount of subsidized (read: affordable and safe) daycare spots in Toronto is pitifully small and now that Martin’s national program is dust, waiting lists will grow longer. That extra $100 bucks does little to address the needs of people who– by their own choice or by life circumstances– need to go to work every day to put food on the table.

There are lots of us. According to Statistics Canada, 64% of women with children under the age of three work and 54% of children under the age of five are in daycare. There are more than 600,000 single parent families. The numbers are increasing every year. Clearly, the time for a national subsidized daycare program has come – and unfortunately, thanks to Stephen Harper– gone.

There is little hope. One of Harper’s solutions was to set aside $250 million in tax credits for employers to create on-site day-care spaces. As a federally funded company that prides itself on being one of Canada’s top 100 employers, would CBC be one of the first to take advantage of this incredible offer? According to recent news reports, not one additional day care space was created by any company under this program. That’s why Harper decided to divert the money to the provinces in the most recent federal budget, so that they can create some more spots.

For most positions, CBC asks its employees to “work flexible hours and weekends as necessary.” We all understand that this is part of the broadcast business, but it does add a considerable strain to working parents. I pray that my child doesn’t come down with chicken pox, or the flu, or break his arm, until my deadlines are over. And when I sense that my day is going to stretch beyond the firm six pm daycare pickup time, I hit the phones and work my connections – other parents, friends – to make sure that somebody is going to be there. It is, without a doubt, the most stressful part of the day.

Some businesses are waking up to the fact that this work-life balance issue is costing them money when parents have no choice but to put their children first. A recent National Post article heralded the arrival of a 24/7 daycare centre in the downtown core aimed at easing the burden for corporate moms.

To be fair, the CBC does offer parents access to the kids & company corporate daycare program ( see http://kidsandcompany.ca/) so employees do have an option to cover PA days, summer vacation and holidays. But like most day care providers, kids & company can’t accommodate employees who work outside the 9-5 day. And it’s expensive: $350 up front for 20 days or $50 a day.

Now that my son has turned six, I’m no longer eligible for the Conservative windfall. But school is over at 3:30, hours before my workday ends, so he still needs daycare.

Wouldn’t if be great if CBC – and other employers – could offer something better?

Annette Bradford is a producer in New Media at CBC in Toronto and a member of the Canadian Media Guild.

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