New Brunswick’s Common Front for Social Justice is consistently well-meaning, invariably courageous and occasionally relevant.
So, why, then, in its recently released, roundly critical review of the David Alward and Brian Gallant governments (though, the latter’s has held the reins of office for all of four months), does the anti-poverty organization skirt any meaningful discussion of publicly subsidized, coordinated and integrated early childhood education as a crucial salve for the issues that concern it most?
The group states it wants minimum wage laws, employment insurance structures and pay-equity frameworks improved, enhanced and expanded. Fair enough.
It also demands that social assistance benefits rise; housing costs for the poor drop; the stock of public accommodations available to the economically disenfranchised enlarge; and that the controversial New Brunswick drug plan be reviewed for broad fairness and equitability. Again, well said.
As for “professional artists”, the Front states in its year-end report card, “The Alward government increased the budget for arts, culture and heritage. The Gallant government said it will put more money in its 2015 budget. The Alward government adopted a new cultural policy, put in place the Premier’s Task Force on the Status of the Artist and adopted a Linguistic and Cultural Development Policy for the French Schools.”
In fact, recognizing official support for professional artists is about the only cap this organization is willing to doff to either the former Tory or current Grit governments of New Brunswick. As to the rest, circumstances are, indeed, desperate:
“There is certainly a real deep financial cost to poverty,” the Front’s report writers acknowledge. “More importantly, there is a human cost that even if it is sometime(s) difficult to measure in dollars and cents is not less real.”
There is, for example, “the worry of parents who are not able to properly feed themselves and their children and have to rely on food banks in order not to go to bed hungry.” There is “the anguish of living in inadequate housing. . .the desperation of knowing that you are sick because you are poor. . .the hopelessness of teenagers knowing they have a lot less (sic) chance(s) of having a better life than their neighbour(s). . .the look of others because you are poor.”
Still, if any of this is true – and most of it is – why is there no concomitant mention, in this finely intentioned diatribe, of the exorbitant day-care costs most working Canadians face as they struggle to avoid poverty even as they slide inexorably into it?
A report, published late last year by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, makes a compelling point. To wit:
“While Canada spends less on early childhood education and care than most OECD countries, Canadian parents are among the most likely to be employed. As Canadian parents are working parents, child care fees can play a major role in decision-making and labour force participation, particularly for women.
“Torontonians pay the most for infant child care at $1,676 a month. Parents in St. Johns pay the second most at $1,394 a month. The lowest feesare found in the Quebec cities of Gatineau, Laval, Montreal, Longueuil and Quebec City, where infant care costs $152 a month thanks to Quebec’s $7-a-day child care policy (increased to $7.30-a-day in October 2014). The second-lowest infant fees are found in Winnipeg ($651 a month) where a provincial fee cap is also in place.
“There are roughly twice as many toddler spaces (1.5–3 years) as infant spaces and fees are lower. Toronto has the highest toddler fees at $1,324 a month. Vancouver, Burnaby, London, Brampton and Mississauga all have median toddler fees over $1,000 a month.”
And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the systemic inequity that two-income families with children endure every day. Those who do not qualify for subsidized spots in the sketchy day-care system across this country can pay anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 per kid, per month.
The circumstance is not only bizarrely unfair; it’s a recipe for economic perfidy; a calculus for ruining national prospects in an increasingly competitive, technologically treacherous world.
Give all kids an early start on the state’s dime and they will return that investment a thousand times over – in critical thinking, empathy, intellectual courage and great, learned humour.
Watch the evils of poverty dissolve before them.
That’s a common front we should all get behind.