National Post

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Thursday, May 13, 1999

Stop penalizing parents, travelling committee told
Tax fairness: Child poverty activist says families get little support from Ottawa

Jonathon Gatehouse
National Post

Peter Redman, National Post / A parents' delegation made its presentation to the Sub-Committee on Tax Fairness for Canadian Families in Toronto yesterday. From left: Dawn Archambault, Christa Freiler, Olivia Chow, Kerry McCuaig, and four-year-old Siobhan Flanagan and her father, Michael Flanagan.

The federal government must find a way to offer all parents relief from the spiralling cost of child rearing in Canada, regardless of their income level, a travelling parliamentary committee looking into the way the tax system discriminates against families heard yesterday.

"The real problem with the tax system is that it is a long way from supporting any family adequately," Christa Freiler, a child poverty activist, told the Sub-Committee on Tax Fairness for Canadian Families during a day of hearings in Toronto. "Public policy hasn't kept pace with the changing face of Canadian families."

More than a decade of federal government tinkering with family and child benefits have left most families with little or no support from Ottawa, said Ms. Freiler. Tax deductions for child care expenses that were supposed to help make up the slack are only available to the one-third of parents who have their kids in registered, receipt-issuing day cares, rather than at home or with family, she noted.

"The biggest losers have ended up being middle-income parents," she said. "We're not talking about people making over $100,000 a year, but families making $30,000 or $40,000."

On it's third day of cross-country hearings, the committee heard parents from all walks of life testify to the same truth -- the tax system penalizes parents.

Deidre O'Sullivan, a mother of three young children said none of the existing programs or tax benefits seem to recognize her situation as a stay-at-home parent who has child-care expenses because she volunteers in the community. But she said she would rather see Ottawa put money into new programs for children rather than a tax break for families.

"By the time you see the refund cheque the money has already been spent," said Ms. O'Sullivan. "Child care or early childhood education would be more beneficial to my family than a couple of thousand dollars."

Molly Ladd-Taylor, an associate professor of history at York University and a working mother, said past attempts at government solutions have been too formulaic and narrow. She said the scarcity and high cost of quality child care is a problem for parents of all economic backgrounds.

"My husband and I make a good living and it's still hard to make ends meet," said Prof. Ladd-Taylor.

Jake Zwart of the Ontario Christian Home Educators' Connection was one of several witnesses who argued for the restoration of a universal tax credit for children, based on the model of the personal exemption granted to every Canadian, regardless of their income. Another part of the solution, he said, is to reduce overall taxation levels and let families make their own choices, rather than "having the government control their lives."

James Davies, a professor of economics at the University of Western Ontario, also presented a brief favouring more direct tax relief for all parents in Canada.

"As every parent knows, kids are expensive. Day-care costs are just the tip of the iceberg. Children must, at a minimum, be housed, fed, and clothed," he wrote in his submission. "These necessary expenditures should ideally be deducted from taxable income."

A return to a universal tax deduction of $2,000 per child would cost about $3-billion a year, said Prof. Davies, well within Ottawa's means.

Nick Discepola, the Liberal MP chairing the committee, said he has been surprised by the testimony the body has heard so far, and the emphasis witnesses have placed on finding a solution that will make the tax system fairer for all families.

"It's contrary to what happened in the House of Commons [debates] where the main thrust seemed to be pitting one family configuration against another configuration," said Mr. Discepola. "[The public] want to see a solution that addresses the problems around child rearing . . . that doesn't detract from someone else."

The challenge, he said, will be to come up with proposals that the government can afford.

Hearings continue today in Halifax and in Montreal on Friday. The committee is due to issue it's final report June 15.

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