Vote buying begins

It’s supposed to be rude to look a gift horse in the mouth. But the $3-billion price tag for the new Universal Child Care Benefit “Christmas in July” gift to Canadian families was paid for by all of us in the first place.

It’s supposed to be rude to look a gift horse in the mouth. But the $3-billion price tag for the new Universal Child Care Benefit “Christmas in July” gift to Canadian families was paid for by all of us in the first place.

Plus, if the federal government wants to use our money to buy our votes, we should at least try to figure out how much they think our votes are worth.

The UCCB was supposed to be a reward to Canadians for the federal government having achieved a balanced budget. Just like the previously-announced income-splitting plan.

But it’s already becoming clear there won’t be a balanced budget by the end of this fiscal year. Especially with an additional $3 billion in UCCB spending.

So instead, they’re calling this a fiscal stimulus program. Now, it’s about creating jobs, as if only families with children can do this.

Pierre Poiliviere, Canada’s shamelessly partisan economic and social development minister, spent huge dollars on vanity videos to hype the program.

Because, well, families with children under 16 who until now were getting $100 a month per child might be confused when their next cheque is actually $160 per child — retroactive to January. Plus, of course, there’s an election coming and the government wants to make sure the 3.8 million families who will be getting their cheques know the source.

And just to be extra sure that we all know, stay tuned for more vanity videos about the UCCB — paid for by taxpayers — all summer long.

Never mind that a government seeking to spend $3 billion (plus millions more in advertising) on economic stimulus, would find the best way to do that is through infrastructure projects.

But then, we voters would suffer additional confusion about the source of the money and give credit to the provinces and municipalities where road, power and water projects would occur. Can’t let that happen.

If we’re talking about voter confusion, the new Universal Child Care Benefit will be taxable. The Ottawa Citizen reported on government calculations that federal taxes on UCCB income will top half a billion a year. There’s provincial taxes on top of that, plus sales tax and GST when the money is spent.

Some parents are already reporting they plan to tax-shelter UCCB income in an RESP plan for the kids. Good planning, bad job creation.

This makes the math for income-splitting in families with children somewhat complicated. The UCCB will be taxed as income to the lower-income spouse, and if that spouse also makes use of income-splitting, he or she may get bumped up a tax bracket and lose a lot of the benefit at tax time.

The parliamentary budget officer reports that just over half of 3.8 million families with children under 16 do not make use of daycare.

Even when you rule out families with children going to school and families making other arrangements than licensed daycare, that’s still a lot of families.

These families are supposed to be the Conservative constituency — targets for votes in the next election.

If there’s one blind spot in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s view of Canada, it’s that he’s no fan of children being in daycare.

That’s why, in 2006, he cancelled a funding agreement with the provinces for daycare and instituted the $100-per-month child care benefit we’ve had until this month.

That money was tax-free and was supposed to help parents make choices about childcare that did not necessarily include licensed daycare.

Obviously, $100 a month buys you virtually no child care at all. As well, for many thousands of families, quality daycare they could afford even with the $160 bonus is very hard to find. (Think something around $1,000 a month. Per child.)

One-income, stay-at-home-mom families — the ones who benefit most from income-splitting and the UCCB — do not constitute a voting block large enough to elect anyone.

These families are the target of the NDP. If Thomas Mulcair had said he’d cancel the UCCB for some other plan, the Tories could campaign on that plank, saying the evil NDP would cancel your Christmas-in-July present.

Instead, Mulcair promises to give families what they really want and really need: affordable quality daycare. Plus, of course, the UCCB.

The Liberals promise an even richer tax-free child benefit. All of the parties promise that all this new spending can arrive within a balanced budget. (This is an election year, after all, so fantasies are quite allowable.)

The vast majority of Canadian families with children need two incomes to even think about being middle class. The vast majority of young mothers have post-secondary education that is career-oriented.

They need daycare and $160 a month won’t get them much of it, especially when the money is taxed back next April.

Harper’s gift horse needs some dental work.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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