The Liberals will be running on their child benefit this year — and they owe Stephen Harper a thank-you

The Liberals will be running on their child benefit this year — and they owe Stephen Harper a thank-you
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Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government may be limping into an October election amidst the unfolding scandal surrounding SNC-Lavalin, but they have a less-than-secret weapon: the hundreds of dollars landing each month in the bank account of the average Canadian family.

The Liberals introduced the Canada Child Benefit in 2016, providing parents with payments indexed to household income to target lower-income families. In last year’s federal budget, they announced the CCB would increase with inflation to keep pace with the cost of living. And with the expanded child benefit now up to a maximum of $540 per month for a child under the age of six, the Liberals have been touting the policy at every stop.

In 2019 alone, Trudeau has mentioned the child benefit 36 times in the House of Commons, sometimes several times a day.

It’s hard to argue with the results. According to Statistics Canada the effect has been 278,000 fewer children living below the poverty line in 2017, compared to when the Liberals took office in 2015.

But if the enhanced child benefit helps secure another Liberal victory this fall, some Conservatives claim it will have been the product of one of the most comprehensive ideological victories for the Conservative Party in Canada’s history.

Twelve years ago, in the 2006 election that saw the Conservatives win a minority government, voters endorsed Stephen Harper’s plan to hand parents cold, hard cash over Paul Martin’s promise for a national government-run daycare program. The Canadian policy debate has never been the same.

An election is almost never a referendum on a single policy idea and it could be true that Martin’s government, after more than a decade of Liberal rule, was always destined for defeat. But the Conservative triumph stopped national daycare in its tracks by handing that money back to parents and telling them to care for their kids however they liked. And although Liberals deplored the Harper plan in 2006, by 2015 they had adopted their own version of it and will now be running on the results.

Ken Boessenkool, one of Harper’s policy advisers at the time, had been pitching similar ideas since the mid ’90s and inserted it into every platform in which he had a hand. To his surprise, a Liberal staffer found the perfect framing for the Conservative idea.

“The beer-and-popcorn comment was an absolutely pivotal moment in that debate,” said Boessenkool, in an interview with the Post.

“Don’t give people 25 bucks a day to blow on beer and popcorn. Give them childcare spaces that work,” said Reid.

Reid’s comments were met with hyper-charged election-campaign outrage from all ends of the spectrum.

“Every day, Canadians are putting their children first. They are making sacrifices for them. But the Liberals don’t trust people with their own money. They don’t trust Canadians to make the best decision for their children,” then-Conservative MP Rona Ambrose told reporters.

Harper replied that he was putting the money in the hands of “the experts, mom and dad,” which Boessenkool said was equally as effective for the Conservatives as calling attention to Reid’s comment. (Reid declined the Post’s request for comment for this story.)

Although the policy debate conclusively changed in 2006 — the most ambitious federal daycare programs are now reduced to funnelling money to the provinces — Liberals disagree with Boessenkool’s contention that the child benefit grew out of Harper’s 2006 policy.

“The (Harper) benefits were favouring wealthier and affluent families who didn’t expect those benefits… and didn’t ask for those benefits either,” Jean-Yves Duclos, the minister for families, children and social development, said in an interview with the Post.

The Liberals say they didn’t need inspiration from the Harper government, either. Policies like this, Duclos said, have been “an important feature of all federal governments since 1945.” A similar program, the National Child Benefit was introduced by Martin in 1998 to combat the “welfare wall” and give low-income parents a greater incentive to join the workforce.

The scale of Harper’s child care benefit seems quaint now by current standards. At $1,200 annually per child under six, it was a little more than a family at the low end of the income ladder will now receive in two months under Trudeau’s plan. But Conservatives are keen to point out that the Liberals have retreated from the battle over government-run daycare.

In a for Policy Options magazine, Boessenkool and Sean Speer, another former Harper policy advisor, emphasized the high stakes of the 2006 election’s policy debate. The Liberals had been promising some kind of state-run daycare for 20 years and, finally, with Paul Martin looking for big ideas, they were about to get serious.

“It was a grand scheme that represented the worst technocratic impulses of modern liberalism,” Boessenkool and Speer wrote.

It was a grand scheme that represented the worst technocratic impulses of modern liberalism

With payments rising to more than $500 a month, the plan almost resembles a small-scale guaranteed basic income for Canadians at the low end of the income scale, which might seem odd to credit as a conservative policy idea. Although the basic income is embraced by progressive governments and policy makers, it’s historically also been attractive to conservatives who see the need for some kind of welfare state but want to limit the bureaucracy that administers it.

In the early 1970s, a time of highly pragmatic conservatism, even Richard Nixon saw the benefits of a universal basic income as opposed to a bundle of government programs all staffed by legions of bureaucrats. The plan never came to fruition but the “ negative income tax ” was seriously considered by conservatives who wanted smaller government.

In that era in the United States, conservatives were opposing a massive expansion of social programs but recognized the need to respond with ideas rather than just nay-saying.

In an interview with the Post, Speer said conservatives across the country should take a lesson from the 2006 election, the Ronald Reagan era in the United States and other times of creative policy-making. He’d like to see “applied conservatism,” where policy is built on a foundation of conservative principles.

With an election campaign that is likely to see the Liberals’ proposed pharmacare plan take prominence, Speer said the Conservatives should be thinking hard about how they will counter it.

“There’s going to be this instinct to be opposed but I don’t think that’s adequate,” he said.

He routinely switches false beards, moustaches and hairstyles, even fake tattoos. She swaps wigs, scarves, glasses. Both have a catalog of fantasy names

Presented with the information, Ontario s Ministry of Health said it will take no action because chiropractic is a self-regulated health profession

Since it was introduced in 2017, thousands of mothers and fathers have collected their “Vaccine Education Certificate,” then continued to duck the shots for their children

I am reminded of the Gomery inquiry. Quid pro quos, greasy influence over civil servants, too much power in the PMO: It all seems awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
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