On Toothpaste and Childcare

If you follow Canadian politics at all you will know that Member of Parliament Eve Adams and her fiancé Dimitri Soudas have been creating quite the side show lately. There’s no need to recount the ridiculous details here, except to say that their behaviour recalls a culture of entitlement we’ve grown all too accustomed to seeing, both in Ottawa and our provincial capitals.

Although the news media is widely reporting MP Adams’ latest ‘privilege eruptions,’ it is the Conservative Member’s previous slip-ups that deserve our attention. In June 2013 the headline read: “Tory MP Eve Adams claimed visits to hair and nail salons, grooming products, and whitening toothpaste.”

Leaving aside the rather odd act of claiming reimbursement for toothpaste, what the headline does not mention is Adams’ claims for childcare expenses.

Elections Canada allows candidates to claim childcare expenses incurred during the campaign period. This is a good thing. The Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC explains why:

Access to quality, affordable early care and learning services advances women’s equality, helping women to both parent and work, study, or volunteer in their communities. To Canada’s shame, such care is hard to find.

– 72% of women with children under six are in the paid workforce

– Overall, 2 in 3 young children with employed or studying mothers are in some form of childcare

– Childcare is generally the second highest cost for families and frequently exceeds the cost of post secondary education. For many families, this cost is unbearable.

Lack of access to quality, affordable early care and learning is a primary reason why mothers with young children experience the highest levels of work-life stress in Canada.

In BC, the 2010/11 provincial median for childcare (toddlers) was $854/month, per child. During the 2011 federal election, Eve Adams claimed $2,346.00 in child care expenses. According to media reports, Adams paid the childcare provider a meagre $12/hour. If this is the case, that works out to just over 195 hours of childcare during the 30 day election period.

Adams went on to win her riding and become one of a record number of women elected to Parliament (76 out of 308 seats – still a long way from parity). Clearly, Adams benefited from the opportunity to claim childcare expenses from Elections Canada (although the same may not be said for the underpaid childcare provider).

The Royal Commission on the Status of Women first recommended the creation of a national childcare program in 1970. Successive federal governments have failed to implement this recommendation (as they so often do with Royal Commissions). The Conservative Party of Canada, claiming to finally take action on the issue, boasts about its introduction of the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) which claims to offer families choice in childcare.

While Adams and other candidates deserve to have the ability to claim childcare expenses, there is a hypocrisy in all of this that should alarm us far more than claims for toothpaste or an outburst at a gas station. The UCCB provides $100 a month to families with a child under the age of six. Recall that in BC care for one toddler averages $854/month and that Eve Adams spent over $2000 on childcare in one month. Adams, however, was able to receive a full reimbursement for her costs.

Eve Adams and the Conservative party tell Canadians that a paltry $100/month is more than enough to provide them with ‘choice’ in childcare. Yet, Adams’ expenses reveal the truth of the matter: the costs of childcare are a growing burden on Canadian women and families.

That Adams would claim $2,346.00 for one month of childcare and, at the same time, promote a policy of $100/month for the rest of us reveals what we already know about how much of the political elite in Canada think: they are entitled to their entitlements and the rest of us can struggle along.

Canadian women, children, and families have a right to public, affordable, and accessible childcare. They should not have to run for election to gain access to it.