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.

Naturopathy, medicine and Hippocrates

Naturopaths believe in traditional methods of good health and treating illness. That’s the problem.

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While it may be fun to go back in time and visit a historic town like Barkerville, it’s not fun to treat disease with traditional medicine. Ezekiel’s parents found this out when their 19-month old died while under the care of a naturopath. An Alberta court found the parents guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life. It prompted 43 medical doctors to demand an investigation of the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta.

The idea that nature knows best dates back millennia. Natural healing is recommended in a book endorsed by the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors:

“Over 2,400 years ago Hippocrates was the first to proclaim ‘the healing power of nature’. Known as the founder of medicine, he believed in the natural healing ability of rest, a good diet, fresh air and cleanliness. Naturopathic medicine is based on this ancient philosophy.”

While it’s true that cleanliness is vital to health in the form of potable water and hand-washing, it’s true only because of the modern discovery of pathogens not because of any inherent virtue of cleanliness.

But rest, a good diet, fresh air and cleanliness won’t cure infection caused by bacteria and viruses. Only modern antibiotics and vaccines can do that.

Modern medicine and naturopathy both converge and diverge with Hippocrates.

Hippocrates got some things right and some things wrong, says Peter McKnight in the Globe and Mail (May 9, 2016). Hippocrates rightfully criticized the old Greek notion that the gods were responsible for health. What Hippocrates got wrong, and what naturopaths persist in believing, is that disease was the result of an imbalance of life forces. Hippocrates replaced one false notion with another says McKnight, a former Templeton-Cambridge fellow in science and religion at the University of Cambridge.

Medical doctors still take the Hippocratic Oath as a testimonial to ethical standards. However, the modern oath was not penned by Hippocrates: it’s less than one hundred years old.

“Yet ironically, his effort inspired vitalism, the discredited, pseudo-religious idea that living matter differs from non-living matter in that it possesses – or more accurately, is possessed by – a mysterious, metaphysical, non-mechanistic life force,” adds McKnight.

“This phenomenon has gone by many names in the West – the vital force, vital energy, elan vital – and is given expression in the chi and prana of Eastern philosophy. . . it was the job of healers to balance things out, which is why Western medicine once relied on bleeding people to re-establish harmony and balance.”

The notion of a life-force may be interesting but it’s not medicine. What is the difference between a person that is living one moment and dead the next? It seems like a life-force has left. Alas, such questions are in the realm of philosophy and religion.

I also see the appeal of nostalgia, to magically return to a way of life more in tune with nature –a way that probably never existed except in our yearning to escape our complex and depersonalized way of life.

Naturopaths rely on a dose of magic. “But magic isn’t medicine. And neither is naturopathy,” concludes McKnight.