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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

12/17/2004

Staying At Home

The antics of the Conservative Party faced with the same sex marriage issue are, as I have outlined below, politically self defeating. But they are also self defeating if you actually believe that families should be supported in Canada.

At the moment the arguments in favour of retaining the man/woman definition of marriage are often grounded in a family positive context. In essence, the socons are claiming that if you allow gays to marry you somehow demean the value of marriage and that this is a threat to the family.

The position those of us who would like to see same sex marriage become part of the marriage matrix in Canada (and leaving aside the libertarian nutbars such as myself who think the state should exit the entire field) is premised on the idea that all citizens have a right to all benefits offered by governments without discrimination. There is method in this madness.

As the new, and so far valuable blogger The Upper Canadian points out: the biggest issue families face is poverty or just barely enough money to make ends meet. this is particularly true of families in which one partner - almost always mum - stays at home.

Now, while the CPC is busy trying to preserve a marriage law which is almost entirely irrelevant to the day to day concerns of Canadian families, it is letting the Grits off the hook on at least two real issues where an appeal to equality rights could make a substantial cash difference to Canadian families.

The first is the current system of maternity and paternal benefits in Canada which is currently administered through the Employment Insurance system. The most basic requirement of this system is that to be eligible one must have worked a minimum of 600 insured hours prior to filing the claim. Which sounds fine, even generous, until you realize that this effectively excludes stay at home mums from any sort of maternity benefit. (Not to mention Dads who work at non-insurable business, freelancers or are on social assistance.)

Now, had the Tories and the family firsters their wits about them they would demand an end to this system on the basis that it is, de facto, discriminatory against women who are just as much mothers as working women but, for whatever reason, stay at home. (I should note that the Courts are unsympathetic to this position as the decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Kelly Lesiuk summarized at LEAF demonstrates.)

This is primarily a political argument and one which, if the Tories would quit obsessing about SSM and exotic dancers, they could make with some effect in the current discussion of equality rights.

But there is a bigger and better moment for family advocates coming up if they embrace the notion of individual equality.

The Grits are committed to introducing a National Daycare Scheme. Now, leaving aside the enormous costs and rather doubtful benefits of such a program, it is designed to only fund daycare provided by daycare centers.

Having just spent a harrowing, rainy day taking care of my four and one year olds while Susan was sick, I cannot imagine why stay at home parents are not included in this program. And, if family advocates argue from an equality perspective, there is no reason why stay at home parents would not be included.

Or, speaking politically, how they could not be included if the Liberals do not want to face a firestorm from the millions of women whose long hard days raising their children are being ignored in the Liberal proposal.

These are meaty, dollars in the voters pockets, issues. They go right to the heart of the Liberal's "hidden agenda" of valuing women's work only when it takes place outside the home. Better still, rather than the present politics of exclusion which the CPC seems intent upon in the SSM debate, here an equal rights to equal benefits approach would be inclusive.

Best of all, going after the Liberals on these two programs would almost certainly work politically. I can't see the Bloc or the NDP opposing an amendment to the Employment Insurance Act which would allow claims from stay at home parents, nor can I see much opposition to extending daycare benefits to men and women who take care of their own kids.

And, here's a hint,admitedly from Focus on the Family, in a 2002 national poll (irritating PDF file) conducted by The Strategic Counsel, 71% of Canadians believed that "the best child care was provided by a parent who does not work and stays at home to raise the children" and 82% agree that the government should change the tax laws to make it easier for a parent to stay at home.

The Tories simply have to box smarter if they have any hope of beating the Grits. This would be a good start.