May 13, 1999
Ottawa should help families, committee told
Use $4 billion of budget surplus, advocates urgeBy Jim Wilkes
Toronto Star Staff Reporter
The federal government should spend part of its budget surplus helping families pay the costs of raising children, advocacy groups urged a fact-finding committee in Toronto yesterday.
The House of Commons finance subcommittee is touring Canada to gather information about the impact of federal policies and to determine whether they treat families with dependent children fairly.
Kerry McCuaig, executive director of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, told the subcommittee the government should ante up at least $4 billion next year to:
Everyone, including people without children, must help pay a share of child-care costs, McCuaig said.
- Establish a universal system of paid maternity and parental leaves for up to a year.
- Expand the national child benefit to $4,200 per child annually for low-, modest- and middle-income families, including those who already receive social assistance. Currently, families with two children earning $20,000 a year receives $3,400 in benefits.
- Create a national infrastructure fund for early learning and care of children.
``To people without children, the point we make is that we all must invest in the next generation,'' she said in an interview.
``Either they can be there to serve you your coffee or do your brain surgery, or they can be there to rob you on the streets.
``If you don't invest in kids early on, that's what the results are.''
There is a ``social responsibility'' for everyone to contribute to children, McCuaig said.
``Young children are the only age group which are entirely the private responsibility of their families,'' she said. ``The most crucial years in human development are completely in limbo.
``The federal government has a responsibility here.''
When fully implemented, the proposals would actually cost about $14 billion a year, suggested subcommittee chair Nick Discepola (Vaudreuil-Soulanges).
Government policies are needed to allow parents to combine work and family responsibilities, said Michael Flanaghan, who has cared for his four children alone since the death of his wife last year.
``What we're saying to the federal government is that it has to be somebody's responsibility, so take that responsibility and do something about it - and then everybody in the country will benefit from it,'' he said.
``The kids will be a lot smarter and they'll be better kids,'' Flanaghan said.
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