Tammy Schirle is an associate professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University.
If someone offered to send me $100 per month just because I have a young child, I'd say yes. I do that now, accepting the deposit of the Universal Child Care Benefit into my bank account every month. The fact that I might enjoy having an extra $100 per month doesn't make it good policy.
The simple fact is I don't really need the money. Neither does anyone else in my income bracket. I can afford excellent child care and programs for my child, which I would purchase whether or not I receive the UCCB. Honestly, I think I use the money to pay off my mortgage faster – and I can afford my mortgage payments.
So why is some guy who earns less than half my salary paying extra taxes so I can receive the UCCB? Good question, and rumor has it there are plans to send me more money by expanding the UCCB to cover children 6-12 years old. The current program costs nearly $3-billion per year.
What are we hoping to achieve with the UCCB? If the goal is to ensure that Canadians have the resources they need to care for their children, then we should be targeting those families that lack resources. A simple expansion of the Canadian Child Tax Benefit can achieve that. If the goal is to encourage women to spend less time in paid work, we have been somewhat successful. My research has shown that married mothers work 1-2 hours less per week because they receive the benefit. It is not clear mothers are spending that extra time with their children, but I expect they are happy about working less.
On Tuesday, the NDP proposed more universal benefits, in the form of low-cost daycare following Quebec's $7-per-day model. I can easily rationalize a heavily subsidized childcare system, targeting low and middle income parents. This benefits low-income kids by offering early childhood education opportunities and benefits young parents – especially young mothers – trying to maintain an attachment to the labour force when their kids are young. However, a universal daycare program is simply unnecessary – why would we redistribute tax dollars to high income families with excellent job opportunities who already have excellent care and education for their children?
Universal benefits are politically appealing, precisely because a large pool of voters can see themselves as benefitting from the promises made. But they are expensive, and Canadians should seriously question the goals of any universal program. More simply – what can be achieved by sending me more money every month other than making me smile?