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Trudeau's childcare challenges should make for better policies for families in long-run (Hill Times)

Dec 04, 2015

 

 

This article was originally published in The Hill Times. 

It was written by Nancy Peckford on December 4, 2015.

The controversy about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s use of paid caregivers is a fascinating contemplation of something most parents in Canada confront every morning: getting out the door and off to work while ensuring that the kids are properly cared for in their absence. Parents spend considerable personal and financial resources creating elaborate arrangements, whether it is engaging a private in home daycare provider, a nanny, carting their kids off to a registered daycare facility, school, before and after school programs, extended family or some other option.

 

Regardless, foremost for parents is the following: will my kid(s) receive care and/or education, which is high quality, affordable and reliable. In a country where over 75 percent of women work outside of the home, it’s a central preoccupation for families from coast to coast to coast. While many families shoulder the majority of those costs themselves, provincial and federal governments spend millions, annually, subsidizing and overseeing licensed facilities and other early educational programs.

 

Getting elected to office doesn’t change these realities. In fact, it significantly complicates them. Instead of one primary location, provincial and federally elected MPs are often straddling at least two: the city in which their legislature resides and the riding from which they were elected. Except that many of these ridings are often so geographically big that their MPs oversee two constituency offices in communities far from one another. Federally, there are only 338 MPs who serve as the key liaisons between over 30 million Canadians and our national Parliament. There’s enormous ground to cover—in every sense of the word.

 

Unlike workplaces with more regular hours, elected representatives who serve in Canada’s national Parliament frequently participate in evening legislative debates and votes, sometimes until midnight. Add intensive committee work, hundreds of stakeholder meetings, conferring daily with parliamentary colleagues as well as the countless receptions to which MPs are expected to make an appearance, and there literally is not a minute to spare. The House of Commons also sits for the highest number of days a year: approximately 125 or one-third of the year—as compared to between 75 and 100 for the Ontario Legislature.

 

By the time MPs have finished a grueling non-stop week here in Ottawa, they are en route to their riding to catch up and participate in numerous community functions, manage mountains of constituency work, liaise with municipal and provincial and other colleagues and, where possible, eke out some time with their loved ones. 

 

To put it simply, this is not a family-friendly workplace—even though Canadians writ large will benefit from the insights and lives realities many of Members of Parliaments will bring to the table as parents—or care-givers of aging parents and other loved ones; insights which are crucial to sound and responsive policy making. There are, collectively, 50 children attached to the parents of Canada’s new federal Cabinet and hundreds more when you take into account all 338 MPs. Yet, apart from a Parliament Hill daycare, which largely serves the personnel who work for elected MPs, there are no systems in place to support MPs and families in managing the rest of their lives. It’s survival of the fittest. The schedule of a federal MP assumes that there is a full-time caregiver in the background ready to pick up the pieces, one solely devoted to this task with few interests or responsibilities of his/her own. Up to now, MPs, including former ministers like Lisa Raitt quietly took up the challenge, paid for the services they required, and got on with it. No conversation required.

 

But the question is, at what price? Given that women are still only 26 per cent of Canada’s federal MPs, it is clear that workplace conditions must change if we are to attract and retain top female talent, which is something the corporate sector grapples with every day. It's why Equal Voice is pursuing a goal of reforming Canada’s provincial and federal legislatures so that they are sustainable and sane workplaces for elected MPs and their families.

Which brings us back to the Prime Minister: the Trudeau-Grégoire's decision to engage caregivers (i.e. nannies) who have a history with their children, particularly during a time of tremendous transition, is good parenting. Two nannies for three young children when their parents are out of the home for an extended period is not excessive; it’s responsible. Children benefit from stable and loving people in their lives—parents are a key part of the equation but not the only ones, especially when those parents have considerable responsibilities outside of the home, to a whole nation.

 

I expect the Prime Minister’s views on the accessibility and affordability of childcare will likely evolve over time as he and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau become increasingly reliant on the wonderful caregivers they have engaged; caregivers who will give their kids normalcy and routine while they are preoccupied with other matters affecting the country. And, for all of the families out there who are madly juggling life and work too, Trudeau's hard-won insights into what all parents need to do to keep it all together during this very demanding period of their lives should lend itself to better and more rigorous policy making that is responsive to the challenges that every family faces—inside the legislature, and out. And isn’t that the whole point?  

 

Nancy Peckford is a national spokesperson for Equal Voice, a national multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women in Canada.
news@hilltimes.com
The Hill Times

 

Link to Original http://www.hilltimes.com/opinion-piece/2015/12/04/trudeaus-childcare-challenges-should-make-for-better-policies-for-families-in/44481

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