Who would benefit from a universal child care program?

As announced in the April 19 federal budget the Liberals will try, once again, to implement universal child care across Canada.

image: HuffPost Canada

They have been promising it for decades but never delivered. In 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin’s minority government pledged to start a program worth $5 billion over five years. Never happened.

This time, Ottawa is pledging $27.2-billion over five years. The catch is that the provinces, having jurisdiction over child care, must cooperate.  If they do, that would make them partners in a 50/50 sharing arrangement.

The difference between then and now is COVID-19. The Liberals, determined not to waste a pandemic, are back into big government and on a spending spree.

A strong federal government contrasts both Liberal and Conservative governments of the last three decades when balanced budgets in vogue. In his budget speech in 1995, then Finance Minister Paul Martin said:

“We are acting on a new vision of the role of government in the economy. In many cases that means smaller government. In all cases it means smarter government.”

The new Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland, isn’t much worried about the size of government. In her budget speech, she said the COV ID-19 pandemic has “brutally exposed” something women have known for a long time: “Without child care, parents – usually mothers – can’t work.”

A universal child care program across Canada would be modeled on Quebec’s. The goal would be to bring child care down to about $10 a day.

It worked in Quebec. Before the child care program was put in place, Quebecois women’s participation in the workplace was below that of the rest of Canada. Now it’s above the rest.

So, who would benefit from a universal child care program? Not younger women aged 15 to 24. Relatively few women in that age group are mothers. Their participation in the workforce has been hit by woes of the retail sector. Child care wouldn’t be a big factor in getting them back to work.

Participation in the workforce for older women in the 25 to 54 age group wouldn’t be affected. Participation rates for them have recovered, and are even slightly higher than before the pandemic hit.

Those most affected are parents, mainly mothers, who when the pandemic hit were forced to work from home at reduced hours and to care for children not in daycare or in school.

Statistics don’t capture the stress of parents still working but juggling the care of children who are at home and learning online.

As Quebec’s experience has demonstrated, a universal child care program can pay for itself over time in two ways. It would put people to work, not only in the child care sector but by allowing previously unemployed parents to enter the workforce. Those workers will now be paying taxes that contribute to the cost.

Also, Canada can pull out of the massive debt just as we did after World War II by “growing out of debt.” As the economy grows, the debt burden relative to the GDP shrinks.

Bold government initiatives define what it means to be Canadian. When we describe the differences between ourselves and Americans, Canadians proudly point to our universal health care.

Universal child care could also be a defining feature of what it means to be Canadian –compassionate and concerned about the good of others.

Why capitalists should support the European Union

Like most Canadians, I favour the European Union and have a negative opinion of Brexit. According to a poll by Carleton University, 75 per cent of Canadians have positive or somewhat positive opinion of the E.U. and 64 per cent are unsympathetic or somewhat unsympathetic of Brexit.

European Union flag. Image: Vector illustration.

Curiously, Canadian views are partisan. More Conservatives are sympathetic of Brexit than Liberals and New Democrats (46, 13, and 8 per cent, respectively). What’s odd about Conservative sympathy is that Brexit will hurt the flow of British capital.

Equally odd is support for Brexit by Britain’s Tory Party, the traditional party of capital.  Neil Davidson, author and professor at the University of Glasgow, explains:

“The Tory Party is not acting in the interests of British capital in pushing through Brexit. This dereliction of its duty is the result of how ruling-class parties have evolved in the neoliberal era (Harper’s, October, 2019).”

This is further evidence of the shift in conservative values towards populism. The Republican Party in the U.S. no longer has capitalism as a core value, rather it owes fealty to a reckless madcap leader who supporters see as maverick. Britain’s Boris Johnson has the same eccentric appeal.

Here’s why rational conservatives should support the European Union:

“Given the illusions many on the left have about the E.U., it’s ironic that its structure corresponds quite closely to the model of ‘interstate federalism’ devised by the economist Friedrich A. Hayek in 1939,” says Davidson. “Hayek, in many ways the intellectual forerunner of neoliberalism, proposed that economic activity in a federal Europe should be governed by a set of nonnegotiable rules presided over by a group of unelected bureaucrats, without any elected members of government and irrational voters getting in the way,”

British capitalists have always been in favour of the E.U. as a replacement for their colonies. As the British Empire imploded and colonies became self-governing and resistant to exploitation, British capital sought new opportunities for investment and found them right next door.

Not only Britain, but capitalists in Germany and France looked within Europe itself for opportunities. Global capital needed outlets for investment beyond the boundaries of individual states. At a time when decolonization across the Global South reduced slavery as a source of cheap labour, the E.U. provided a means for capitalism within Western Europe.

Contrary to my impression of the E.U. as being a foil to the rising U.S. military industrial complex, the E.U. benefited the U.S. as well. The E.U. was a political and economic complement to the NATO military alliance in Europe, part of Washington’s Cold War imperial project.

The global economic crisis in 2008 exposed the structural inequalities of the E.U. as not a union of equals. Germany imposed austerity measures on weaker states, throwing countries such as Greece into depressions.

The E.U. is a model of globalization in which “free trade” is the advertised objective but the imposition of non-trade clauses, such as copyright and protection of Big Pharma patents, is a primary goal.

The E.U. is more undemocratic than any of the nation-states that compose it, including Britain. Its least democratic institutions such as the European Commission and the European Global Central Bank have the most power while the nominally democratic European Parliament has the least. It’s a undemocratic institution designed to prevent social democrats from infringing on the logic of capital in Europe.

Brexit will diminish the power of capitalism as we move into an era of populism and protectionism characterized by the Trump administration.

My hope is that organic movements, such as climate activism, will rise to restore sanity in resolving the greatest threat to humanity.

Not your father’s minority government

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government is not like his father’s. When Pierre Trudeau won minority government in 1972, he didn’t have the support of opposition parties. The government only lasted 1 year, 221 days. His minority government introduced the unpopular Petro-Canada Crown Corporation that reminded Albertans of the despised National Energy Program. Petro-Canada’s reddish-coloured headquarters in Calgary were tagged “red square.”

P.M. Lester Pearson. Image by Nobel Foundation, Associated Press

Given the bluster from the United Conservative Party of Alberta, you wouldn’t think that the Liberals have any support from the Conservatives until you consider that they both want the Trans Mountain pipeline built.

Consider the following, suggests my Calgary friend:

“I think the conservatives and liberals are not that far apart on the pipeline issue. If the liberals make good on our 4.5 Billion dollar investment in the TMP they will get no support from the NDP or the BLOC but the conservatives would be foolish not to support it.”

Wouldn’t that be something to behold? If the NDP or the Bloc Québécois opposed a pro-pipeline bill, how could the Conservatives not support it without appearing hypocritical? And the NDP and Bloc could then wash their hands of the project that offends environmentalists.

Justin Trudeau has consistently said that he is going to build the Trans Mountain pipeline. He repeated that goal after the October 21, 2109, election.

While reactions to the federal election have focused on a divided country, I see Justin Trudeau’s Liberals offering something for everyone.

The Liberals and the Bloc Québécois can work together on social policy and the environment. The Bloc Québécois has made it clear that they intend to support this Liberal minority government. BQ Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said that the Liberals should do “what it takes” to make Parliament work. He added there’s a law stating that government mandates are supposed to last four years. I’m not sure that’s true for minority governments but Blanchet’s support is clear.

Who knows, if successful, Trudeau’s minority government could be re-elected as was a minority government in 1965, one before Pierre Trudeau’s.

The NDP and the Liberals have the common goal of implementing Pharmacare. Both parties campaigned on bringing the much-needed plan into reality.

Canada is an anomaly among nations. We are the only industrialized country with a universal public health care system but no Pharmacare. Every study of Canada’s health care has identified the lack of Pharmacare as a major gap in our system. Medicare without drug coverage doesn’t even make sense. What good is a health care system that prescribes drugs but doesn’t cover them?

Justin Trudeau’s minority government should look to the accomplishments of minority governments before his father’s. Lester Pearson’s Liberals implemented universal health care with the cooperation of the NDP. And his minority government was so successful that it was re-elected as a minority government with back-to-back Liberal minority governments following elections in 1963 and 1965.

How fitting is it that this minority government complete the Medicare program started by minority governments, a goal not attempted by his father.

Pipeline approval won’t help the Liberals

If the federal Liberals were as popular as the Trans Mountain pipeline, they would win the upcoming election in a landslide.

image: City News, Edmonton

The problem for the Liberals is that the pipeline is most popular where voters are least likely to vote Liberal and least popular where voters traditionally vote Liberal.

According to an Angus Reid poll, the strongest support for the pipeline is in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 85 and 71 percent respectively (ArmchairMayor.ca, June 21, 2019). That’s where Liberal support is weak. Only a total of five seats were won by the Liberals in the combined provinces. Meanwhile in Quebec, 40 percent disapprove. That’s where the Liberals won 40 seats.

While support for the pipeline in B.C. is 54 per cent, that average doesn’t reflect the difference of opinion between the Lower Mainland and the Interior. People in the Interior generally support the pipeline because of jobs and financial incentives offered by Trans Mountain. An informal poll by Kamloops This Week showed 80 per cent approval. The Lower Mainland opposes the pipeline because of potential spills.

Conservatives are placed in the awkward position of approving of the pipeline while disapproving the Liberals. Cathy McLeod, Conservative MP for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, doubted the government’s ability to finish the job:

“I’m not all that optimistic that this government can get it done,” McLeod told Kamloops This Week. Her statement aligns with the Angus Reid poll where 40 percent of respondents didn’t think the pipeline would be built.

Another perceived hurdle is Bill C-69, passed by the Senate last week, which critics say will ensure that the pipeline will never be built.

Bill C-69 imposes more requirements for consulting affected Indigenous communities, widens public participation in the review process and requires climate change to be considered in the building of any development.

The Alberta-based Pembina Institute is cautiously positive of Bill C-69:

“This bill was never about individual projects, but rather a reform of the entire decision-making and assessment process. It is about creating tools and processes to ensure natural resource development decisions, whether about a mine or a dam or a pipeline, are made in a fair way (press release, June 14, 2019) “

If pipelines don’t determine how people vote, what does? Pollster Michael Adams has noticed something new in the way people view immigrants. Twenty years ago, anti-immigrant sentiment was evenly distributed among all three major parties. That’s changed, say Michael Adams, Ron Inglehart, and David Jamison in their article:

“Conservative supporters are more likely to agree with statements strongly hostile to immigration. For example, 50 per cent of Conservatives strongly or somewhat agree that “Overall, there is too much immigration. It threatens the purity of the country.” Fewer than a third of New Democrats (31 per cent) and Liberal supporters (24 per cent) share this belief. This relative concentration of xenophobic sentiment in one party is a new phenomenon in Canada (Globe and Mail, June 14, 2019).”

The researchers are careful to point out that the Conservative Party is not anti-immigrant: they just attract people who are.

Researchers call this the “authoritarian reflex,” a reaction caused by uncertainty and characterized by increased hostility toward “the other,” regardless of whether they are “deviants” in society or foreigners.

The contagion of populism that has been animated by the authoritarian reflex in the U.S. has spilled over into Canada. It will determine the way people vote in way not seen in recent history.